Sunday, September 19, 2004

Child Labour

I was the oldest of four children, and when people commented on how much work four children must be my mother used to say that she had four so that she would never have to do housework. She and my dad had us organised so that every morning before we went to school the house was vaccuumed, all the trash emptied, laundry collected and put in the washer so that it could be hung after school, breakfast was cooked, consumed, cleared and dishes washed, all the animals (and there were always lots) fed and cared for, and all the beds made and bedrooms tidied. I have two children who, bless their hearts, were raised with a housekeeper and a gardener and a driver, all of which made my life easier but left them rather ill-prepared for fending for themselves in university. To their credit, they have learned despite the disability.

In Egypt, among the lower middle class and on down, the children work. Education in Egypt is supposed to be compulsory and most of the children go to some sort of school, whether a government school or a mosque school. In the countryside children work quite a lot, as they have for centuries in most rural areas. I have a roll of snapshots in my head: a girl about 5 with her galabeya hiked up around her hips squatting by a tub of soapy water scrubbing dishes while her younger brother helps to carry a bucket of water from the pump; a boy not more than four years old solemnly, and rather inaccurately, sweeping the sidewalk in front of his mother's shop next to where I'm sitting with two friends drinking coffee; a pair of sisters who guide their slowly increasing flock of sheep and goats down the road to the shelter by their father's field and back home each morning and evening before and after school.

I'm very much in favour of education, no question about it. As well, I think that a bit of work done to help in the family is a good thing. There is very much an attitude in more "developed" countries that children are too young to do any work and that somehow childhood should be dedicated to school and play. While I'd like to boost the quality of schooling for the kids around here, I have to admit that they are learning a lot from helping out around the house and fields and that they seem to have plenty of time to play as well. They don't have much time for television, their football games are likely to be in the desert or a fallow field or even the street rather than a mowed field. But it's common to see a group of children sitting in the shade of a mulberry tree working on their homework together.

I'm not sure that this is such a bad childhood.


Melissa said...

I agree with you! I grew up in a town in Idaho, but there was still always enough to do around the house to keep us busy, and we learned to work around the house to keep it functioning well. As I look at the other people my age from my neighborhood, their success in life seems to diminsh in proportion with the amount of responsibility they didn't have growing up. Now I am a teacher in urban Richmond, VA. So many of my students feel that their responsibility is to watch basketball games and play around with their friends. I have no idea how much housework the ones who demonstrate the inner drive to be successful do! But in some way, they were taught to be responsible for their own paths, and kudos to their parents for that.

By the way: I love your blog! I discovered it a month ago. Please keep writing! Your observations are a call to all to respect neighbors at home and around the globe.

Joshua Salik said...

Is child labor allowed in Egypt? How about slavery?
Joshua Salik
Salik Games
"The empty half of the glass is always at the top"