Abject poverty and a sick father has forced Bithi's family to send their two oldest daughters to the garment factories to sew designer clothes that will be sold in shops in Canada, the United States and other high-income countries. Every day, Bithi helps create a minimum of 480 pair of pants, earning the equivalent of about $1.20.
On Mother's Day, I look at my kids and think how blessed I am. Not just because I've had a chance to raise them, with all of the love, pride and fun that brings to my life. But because doing so has been a joyful experience. I've been able to nourish them, keep them warm, and send them off to school in the morning.
The truth about chocolate is tough to swallow. My heart aches for the two million children, mainly in West Africa, who work on cocoa plantations. Far too many of them toil under slave-like conditions, forced to handle dangerous chemicals, and swing machetes sharp enough to maim. Most are paid next to nothing. Some are abducted from their homes and forced to work for free without the opportunity to go to school, forfeiting dreams for the future.
Canadians travelling to warm spots this March Break may be approached by child labourers selling trinkets or souvenirs. In El Salvador, this young girl carries heavy basket of water bottles to peddle to tourists. So what should Canadians do, if they encounter a child who seems to be in danger? Many of us are so concerned about misreading a situation, or imposing our own Canadian views on another way of life, that we do nothing. We may comment about how sad the situation is, and then move along.
Working with World Vision, I know that too much chocolate available in our stores comes at the heartbreaking expense of some 2 million children worldwide. Here are some of the things I've done this year, to keep the fun in Valentine's Day and honour those I love, while caring for children around the world:
Don't end the conversation with "Yes, that's sad." There are many things to wonder about together. "I wonder who made the decision for this to happen?" or "Who do you think it hurt by this?" are great ways to keep them thinking. Encourage them to take it further: Some questions you can answer; others you can't. Help your child figure out who would be best to write to.
Today's products come to you courtesy of a whole string of contractors and subcontractors, each with different employment and safety standards. Moving down the supply chain, you often find children forced to work in brutal, dangerous conditions for very little pay. Hours are so long that many have no chance to continue in school, relegating them to lifetimes of low-paid labour.
After we moved to Canada, money was still tight for my family. Hand-me-downs from friends were the new threat. Some of them fit okay, but colour was a whole other issue. Much of the light clothing had taken on a grayish tint, from being washed too often with the darks. Most of the dark clothing was faded. But I've overcome that stigma to embrace the many benefits of second hand clothing.
On July 30, the International Day of Friendship celebrates unlikely friendships with the power to change the world. Children's empowerment is exactly the kind of thing UN leaders had in mind, when they said "yes" to the idea of an International Day of Friendship. The date places particular emphasis on involving young people as future leaders.
Just because William Wilberforce brought British slavery laws crashing down in the early 1800s, we assume slavery has ended. Not so. Children as young as six are forced by their impoverished parents to go into the streets and press anyone to give them money. Some children are forced to carry their newborn brothers and sisters into traffic, zigzagging between stopped cars in traffic jams while pleading for small change.
As we mark the World Day Against Child Labour, more than 115-million children are forced to work in jobs that are dirty, dangerous and degrading. World Vision is fighting to keep the conversation about child slavery going strong. Wednesday in Toronto and Vancouver, we staged potentially shocking events in store windows to generate discussion about child slavery.
At an age when Canadian teenage boys are downloading songs on iTunes, Bounmy left his village in Laos to find work next door in Thailand, which he did on a fishing vessel. Little did he know he would be kept on that boat for nine years with no pay. And the fish he hauled out of the water may well have been appearing on Canadian dinner tables.
Imagine the four walls around you are basically walls of blue tarp held up by tree branches. Your floor is a slab of cement if you're lucky, or a dirt floor where rats and bugs greet you at every corner as they scavenge through heaps of litter, scrap, and human waste. This is the reality of a Delhi slum.
As the outdoor temperature starts to fall, many Canadians plan their winter escapes. Most look for someplace warm. Canadians are generous, caring people, and that doesn't change when we go on holiday. But surely we can't cure all a country's problems in the one week we are there! There's nothing we can do to change things for the children, right? Actually, there's a lot we can do.