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Christmas Is Criminal

12.24.2000 | LABOR

Christmas is upon us and everywhere kids' eyes are glowing in toy stores. Have you ever wondered where all those toys for Christmas come from? What it takes for your child to have a Kodak moment? The global economy comes with a hefty price tag--child labor.

Every time you buy a toy made in a Third World country, there is a good chance that you are contributing directly to child slavery.

According to Human Right International, the total number of slave children worldwide between five and fourteen years old, is between 100 to 200 million. They constitute a large part of the subcontracting work force for the export industry, working under hazardous conditions in the footwear, garment, furniture, carpet, gemstone polishing, handicrafts and mining industries. In 1994 it was estimated that over 400,000 Indian children, as young as six years old, worked in damp pits making carpets for the United States, Germany and UK.

Toys and Products that Contribute to Child Slavery

Almost all "dollar store" products are made in Third World countries such as India, China, Pakistan, Taiwan, Mexico and South American states, whose laws are easy to get around if the price is right. The Pokemon and Happy Meal toys at Mc Donald's are made in China's "free zone." This free zone was developed for foreign companies, mostly American, to manufacture cheap products for the North American population outside of the constraints of labor laws. Barbie, Fisher Price, Disney products, Nickelodeon products, Hot Wheels, Action Men, Wal-Mart, Toys R US, Pokemon, Digimon and of course Nike are all produced under these conditions!

Child labor is not only prevalent in Third World countries, it also occurs in democratic countries. In Italy, three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand children work illegally making clothing and working in agriculture. In Greece, the minimum age for employment in family businesses, theatres and the cinema, agriculture, food services and merchandising is 12. In recent years, the number of street children who sell or offer their services at city intersections has increased. Child prostitution is growing in Athens. In the UK, around 30% of twelve year olds and about 20% of eleven year olds were being illegally employed in low-wage jobs. This figure was backed by a similar survey carried out by MORI for the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Contemporary research suggests that the child labor is likely to increase by about 10% each year. In Spain more that 400,000 children work. Some of them work in factories for half the adult wage. Small sub-contracting businesses, in particular the shoe industry, use child labor. Others worked in family businesses for no pay while going to school. This includes work in shops, bars, agricultural jobs, street markets, selling, and cleaning car windows at traffic lights. Other children work on the streets; cleaning shoes, selling, collecting cardboard and refuse, begging and in prostitution.

Child labor exists in America as well. Selling a child, other than for sex, slavery or servitude, is not a crime in Arizona. (An eleven year old girl was found being manhandled outside a Tucson strip club. She told a Tucson detective her parents had sold her once in Fresno for $11,000 and again in Phoenix for $5,750. She was returned to her parents in Fresno). The United States has 4 million working children. A 1997 survey based on federal government data reveals that some 290,000 children work illegally. The survey admits to being incomplete because it is unable to account for the most easily exploited: children of migrant workers, illegal immigrants, and the very young.

Most unlawfully employed children work in the agricultural and the horticultural sectors, where they are often exposed to harmful pesticides, and work far below the normal minimum wage. Some 14,000 children under the age of fourteen, and as young as nine years, work in garment sweatshops.

What can you do? The easy answer is to stop Christmas and stop the turkey genocide... but I know that's impossible. Traditions are hard to eliminate. The best thing to do is buy locally manufactured products. Write to your government and stop buying plastic--it ain't good for the environment either!

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About the Author
Leonardo Calcagno, who is based in Montreal, writes a weekly column for He also contributes to various French and Spanish zines.
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