The Swarthmore chapter of Amnesty International has dedicated the week of Dec. 3rd – 8th to children’s rights. Amnesty is commemorating International Human Rights day, Dec. 4th, with a full week of raising awareness and engaging in activism. In past years, the group has chosen a different issue for each day of the week, Aleta Hong ’09 says “This year, we wanted a more focused series.”
The group chose to promote children’s rights after reading a New York Times article about forced child labor in Africa. “It was both shocking and horrific to read about children who were 5 or 6 years old and sold into servitude by their parents for barely $20 a year.” says Linda Wang ’09. “These children work over 14 hours a day in dangerous conditions, whether in fishing boats, mines, or cocoa and rice plantations. And even though in 1989 most of the world (except the US) signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, these children still suffer from exploitation and lack the protection necessary to provide them with adequate shelter, good sanitation, health care, education, and enough food.”
Wang explained that child exploitation even occurs within the United States, particularly in agricultural industries. “You have an estimated 300,000 children who work as hired laborers in large-scale commercial agriculture, planting, weeding, and picking apples, cotton, onions, and other crops. They do this instead of going to school.” Says Joel Swanson ’10, an active participant in the week’s activities “It’s easy for us, going to one of the most elite colleges in the country, to forget about how different the lives of many children are from our experiences. the opportunities we have been given also give us a tremendous responsibility to use the tools available to us to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate, like children who do not have access to education because they have to work to support their families.”
Monday’s event focused on raising awareness about the issue of child labor on farms. Members of Amnesty International tabled at the Shane Lounge in Parrish, asking students to sign a petition urging Congress to change United States child labor laws which allow children as young 14 to work unlimited hours after-school on farms.
Today, Amnesty will be screening a film on international child labor entitled “Stolen Childhoods” at 7:00 p.m. in the Scheuer Room. The film is directed by Robin Romano, who is a well-known photographer, director, and human rights advocate. On Wednesday, December 6th (also at 7:00 p.m. in the Scheuer Room), the William J. Cooper foundation has sponsored a lecture with Mr. Romano on global child labor and poverty. Immediately following the lecture, Amnesty will be hosting a CoffeeHouse with live music, Fair trade coffee, hot tea and baked goods in the Olde Club. Finally, the week will culminate in the Global Write-A-Thon on Friday Dec. 8th. Swarthmore students will be invited to write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and send holiday messages of hope to them.
Amnesty hopes to raise awareness of issues, and try to get other students involved with the organization. Says Hong “Human rights violations are too important to be ignored, and as a Swattie and a human being we should all care.”