Actor and humanitarian Ashley Judd: Everyone wants to cut labor costs. It must not be done on the backs and at the expense of children
In India, I have squatted with kids on towering heaps of smelly trash, helping as they picked through rubbish for the tiny items they think they can sell or use. In Congo, I have knelt at the 2-foot openings of unstable hand-dug mines, waiting for 9-year-olds to clamber out, carrying the minerals that make this very laptop on which I write, glow.
In Cambodia, I saw children laboring on assembly lines in sweltering factories to make roller bag suitcases. In Kenya, and so many other places, it was young girls, some pregnant, even breastfeeding from recent births, being used by adult men for sex.
And that is how Americans have always thought of child labor: as a travesty of human rights violations “over there” – in developing economies, completely unlike our own. That myth has now been shattered by The New York Times’ recent investigations into what is reality here in the United States.
“We have child labor laws here” – so we believe. And so we do. Those laws are designed to prevent children from working at all, and to limit the hours school-age children can work.
But given that children are working under what amounts to indentured and slave labor conditions in every single state right here at home, we know that those laws are being broken, most egregiously by those who are exploiting the most vulnerable workers of all: underage migrant workers.