Child Labor — An observer’s experience

Date: 17th October 2015
Time: 3.20pm (Time of which photo was taken. See below for more)
Location: Gourmet Burger Kitchen: 5 South Anne St, Dublin 2.

It was a lovely Saturday, and I was out in the city to complete a round of shopping for both necessary and unnecessary things and to have lunch. I was alone, by preference. Sometimes the best way to pamper yourself is by providing quiet time to mull things over and appreciate silence without the need to chatter to a friend beside.

Stopped by for lunch at GBK, sat at a table outdoors, (alfresco), where I faced the walkway:

The stuff on the table are irrelevant :- just wanted to point out that i was beside a walkway. With that being said: their garlic mayo was ace.

My lunch was relatively peaceful, and I was just finishing up when a boy of about 9–10 years old approached me. He had freckles, blue eyes, was brown haired. Dressed in a parka and jeans, with a hat. He showed me a piece of paper and passed me a pen.

He said: “Do you want to sponsor me for boxing club?”

The piece of paper was handed to me and I took it. On the first page it had a picture of two boys in boxing gear standing in a ring. On the second page it had lines with two columns, one for the names of people who agreed to sponsor, one for the amount they sponsored. I saw the names of people who gave 2 euros, 5 euros, and one person gave 10 euros.

I pushed away the paper and I started asking him questions. Mind, I did that because he was ADORABLE, and I wanted to know more. My still-present naivete in navigating the lifestyles of Dublin-ers made me unaware towards the more shady parts of a typical town/city.

I said: “What’s your name?”
He said: *something i forgot to be honest*
I said: “Where do you go to school?”
He said: “St.Patrick’s”
I said: “Why do you want to join the boxing club?”

He never managed to answer that, because we were both distracted by a waitress making her way to us. With 20/20 hindsight, I realize now that he seemed a bit uncertain when he answered the questions. His eyes were shifty, he never once looked me in the eye, and he did not smile. The waitress came up to him and reprimanded him at once.

“I told you never to come back here! You know you’re not allowed in here! Get out now!”

I was taken aback but I did not mention anything. She wasn’t shouting at the kid but she did raise her voice. The boy left and I asked the waitress,

“Does he come here often?”
“Yeah, I’ve chased him away 5 times already this week”
“Does he really need the money, or is it a scam?”
“It’s a scam, he and this other boy works for two ladies. In fact, there they are” (Her eyes flicker towards the pavement opposite of where I was sitting, and flicker back to me quickly)

I looked towards the general direction of where she was pointing out to me and sure enough, I saw the boy walking towards a lady (the one wearing a blue scarf and blue shoes). To the unknowing observer, all he would have seen was her leaning against the pole thing (I don’t know what it’s called) and minding her own business, while talking to herself. Since I was already in the know about what was going on, it seemed clear to me that the boy standing in her vicinity was under her charge. She WAS talking to him, but she was talking in every direction except towards his. Obviously the modus operandi was that they were not meant to be seen as affiliated in public. From her expression she seemed frustrated and angry. I could not make out what she was saying though.

Not long after, maybe a couple of minutes or so, another woman (the blonde) and boy joined them. He was also holding the two pieces of paper, so I assumed that he was asked to collect money from unsuspecting Samaritans as well.

I did not take any more photos as I saw them looking my way, and God forbid did I want to get myself tangled up in a underground scheme or something. However, I guess the lady took me up as a plausible target because the boy then came up to me through the other side of the glass (outside the boundaries of the restaurant) with a smile on his face and paper in his hands. I shook my head, no. Paid my bills, accidentally left my Oreo cupcake on the table, went on my way.

I would never know for sure who those four individuals were. Whether or not they are really related by blood, or just plain related. Whether or not they really needed the money for whatever club they wanted to join and they were just badly shackled by a lower than average income. Whether the ladies were part of a bigger ring. I do not know and I will never know.

But one thing for certain is that I disagree with the use of children as a means to get money. This situation I saw, whether or not it complied with the various definitions and properties of child labor (Link to International Labour Organization) evidently showed that the children were working under ORDERS to collect cash. Walking along the streets, approaching strangers, all the while their “guardians” stood by to watch them work , then getting mouthed after flaking out on a possible target (in this case: me when he got reprimanded by the waitress) — are all indicators that this was not normal.

Children should not be used as a ploy to target soft-hearted individuals. They should never be objectified as tools to bait the public. In Malaysia, we come across women cradling their child in their arms while they sit and beg for money. We see it occur on the streets when the weekly pasar malam happens. We see them planted on busy pavements in urban areas like Bukit Bintang or Jalan Alor. Do not give them cash. Give them food and drink, or milk for their baby. If the child really is theirs, and all they cared about was the well being of their baby, then food and drink for sustenance should be fine.

It seems like a cruel thing to do, but we should always be wary of possible repercussions that might occur if the child that was being carried was a kidnapped baby from across the continent? Human trafficking in Malaysia (and the world) has always been an alarming issue and we might unknowingly be propagating it. The individuals in the upper echelons of the organization might see children begging for money as a greater guarantee for profits — seeing as the public take pity on first and foremost, innocent, sinless children. This would further expand into a thousand different variations of child labour.

I would say that as individuals with a basic moral compass, it would be logical and even instinctual of us to try to safeguard the best interests of people who are less fortunate than us. The ones who do not have a voice are the ones who need it the most. It would be SO EASY to play by the books of our conscience to just give RM1. We’d feel so good about ourselves, we’d be our own hero for a day. We could talk about it online. Nonetheless, sometimes not doing what seems to be “the right thing” would actually be the right thing. People always say, “husnudzon” or “bersangka baik”, but really though, should we really take the risk?

In my case though, I did not do anything. I did not go and confront the women to ask them for an explanation as to why these poor boys were being ordered to go round and collect money. I did not even have the courage to look them in the eye for fear that they might really be “bad” individuals. In some ways right now, I feel a little bit hypocritical talking about things that we should or shouldn’t do when faced with these sort of dilemmas. So in a way, I am writing about it to raise awareness. It is a hope that in some way, I did try to defend the defenseless.

The rights of children should always be protected. Their dignity is just as important an aspect as with all other physical ones such as health, accessibility towards food, shelter, clothing. It is up to us future leaders of our generation to start looking out for the things that matter.

  • Hastily written,
    Marissa Dinar// 1.43am