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Ending child slavery

Today's world is fraught with deliberate distortions. This is why it is not unusual for NGOs, governments and the powers-that-be to, once in a while, pick on a banal issue and carefully weave a web of heart-breaking propaganda around it. This is done with the aim of covering up the reality and at the same time to arouse the fellow-feeling instincts of candid individuals to donate money. Last May the world was treated to such an episodic storm-in-a-teacup by an NGO-based in the Republic of Benin in West Africa.

This time around it was a big noise about an ageing ship which was not seaworthy carrying, according to the NGO, about 450 underage children to be sold into slavery in Gabon. These kids were allegedly bought in Togo and Benin. When about a week or two later the ship was tracked down, it was found out that there were actually about 40 youth in it. Only a few were underage, and many were accompanied by their relatives. I do not deny that human trafficking exists nor do I dispute the fact that the Benin slave ship incident was a case of child slavery. However, as will be explained presently there was gross exaggeration involved and, more importantly, virtually nothing was said about the nature, causes and remedies, to such a hideous phenomenon.

The nature of child slavery
Child slavery (and also adult slavery) is not a new phenomenon in the world (not only in Africa). The incidence of this cruel activity takes place in two main forms. In the first place there is the crude aspect of it where the child becomes the property of the rich owner. This is mostly found in Sudan, Mauritania and other North African countries. It is also practised in Ghana among the Ewe tribe (of former President Jerry Rawlings). It is called the “Trokosi”. However unlike the Trokosi system is based on culture and tradition, in North Africa mainly blacks are forcibly ceased and turned into slaves. The case of the victims of the Benin slave ship of those children who were being sent from Ghana to Gambia to work in the fishing industry (that controlled by some Ghanaian fishermen living in Gambia or even those children providing slave labour in cocoa or coffee plantations in West Africa are usually “sold” out by parents and relatives and mostly not for good. (See Daily Observer, Gambia, 10 May.)

The second, mild, type appears in the shape of such euphemistic terms as “maid”, “babysitter” etc. This category involves mostly females. These are children from impoverished homes who are supposedly employed by the more affluent families. But it is the conditions under which they work that betray the slavery relations – they find themselves in: they are mercilessly underpaid; they work throughout the day. Those who are made to sleep with the family they work for do not have “working hours”. As long as there is something to be done, they have to do no matter the time. But what is more pathetic is that they are often targets of sexual abuse either by the man or his sons. They are also subjected to verbal and physical assaults. This system is very widespread in the Senegambia region and among the Arabs.

In fact many of those making noises about child slavery keep maids. This abuse of children's rights as regards their exploitation by the owners of wealth can also be seen in the so-called civilised world. Notice for instance the case of over half-a-million schoolchildren working illegally with many playing truant to do for just a pittance. (See “Voice from the back”, Socialist Standard, May.)

Why?
Many people may not be able to figure out how in this modern age people can indulge in slavery or, worse still, willingly offer their loved ones for sale. These people are so sympathetically touched that they cannot imagine the cause of such inhumanity. On the other hand those rabble-rousing on child slavery fail to highlight the causes, most of the time for obvious reasons.

But one thing very certain is that almost all those engaged in slavery (in all its forms) are Christians, muslims or believers for that matter. Under normal circumstances these slavers would not do any harm to fellow human beings especially innocent children. So if these people irreligiously defy the holy books and perpetrate such wickedness, then it is obviously for a reason more important than religion. And that is money, profit. The system in operation throughout the world today is based on money. Without money one cannot live. Consequently anything that one can do to have money is “normal”. Even religious leaders (Christian, Muslim, etc) will use every underhand tactic to extort money from their mostly impoverished followers, and without any pity; businessmen and women will tell every lie just to make profits, etc.

This world, as it is now, is controlled by those who own big money and the means of living. They use their wealth to form political parties which, when in power, rule on behalf of the owners. Since the rich make their money by exploiting the masses through their (the rich) control of the means of production and distribution of wealth, the ruling parties or governments act in the interest of the party owners. In the process, the masses are neglected since social wealth is appropriated by the few and rich party owners. Left with nothing to eat, a starving man or woman can easily (out of dire necessity) give out a child in exchange for food (reflected as money). This is what pertains not only in Africa but also in especially Asia and Latin America.

In the same vein, others knowing what such possibilities exist will take advantage of the situation and get involved as agents just to enhance their access to a continuous flow of money and thus food. Thus child slavery is real business (money - commodity - money) which is capitalism in practice.

In mid-May, in the wake of the Benin slave ship saga, government officials from Ghana and La Côte d'Ivoire flew to England to discuss the problems in the cocoa and coffee industries. The issue was apparently sparked off by the news of the Benin slave ship. The discussions highlighted among other things the fact that chocolate industries in Europe and America reaped all the profits whilst the poor cocoa farmers experienced lower and lower incomes. Such a phenomenon, they said, naturally leads to the search for cost-effective methods of production. This is a euphemism for the use of child slave labour in cocoa and coffee plantations. Thus the whole issue is making money, profit.

What is to be done?
In extolling their usefulness to society, NGOs and their ilk often claim that they sensitise the world community on problems or that they expose the problem to the whole world. This, to an extent may be true. But invariably it is done more to attract funds for their organisations than to seek solutions to the problems. A clear case of making money out of other's misery. And that is exactly why most of the time they exaggerate or blow issues out of proportion.

However experience has proved that attempts to correct “injustice” in the world can never be attained by pursuing single-issue matters like talking to people about child slavery. Child slavery is only one of the symptoms of the disease confronting mankind. Call it the profit system or the rule of money or capitalism. Tackling child slavery is thus like trying to treat the symptom of a disease and leaving the disease intact. So the NGO and those agencies and governments who keep crying foul constitute in the main a dubious business entity. They solicit for funds from the two antagonistic sections of society: they are spawned by the rich to enhance exploitation by soothing the pains of the poor; and they also take from the poor (especially through contributions from taxes levied by states) to keep them (the poor) immersed in poverty.

In furtherance of such objectives governments, NGOs and other such groups facilitating exploitation of man by man, easily come up with farcical and indeed nonsensical solutions to such issues. Consider for example the suspension by a German football team of the owner of the Nigerian-registered vessel involved in the shipping of the child slaves from Benin to Gabon. The owner, a Nigerian professional footballer in Germany may rather use as a pretext his suspension or even total expulsion to get more deeply involved in child trafficking (if he personally did take part in the matter at all). Such solutions are hypocritical and complete non-starters.

Again, just around the time the Benin slave ship episode was unfolding, the BBC's Focus On Africa programme carried a news item on a proposed trip to Sudan by the world-famous musician Michael Jackson to assess the issue of child slavery there. Paradoxically Jackson himself was alleged to have been accused before a law court of sexually abusing a little boy. The case was however settled out of court. Such is the double standards of this money-infested system that the rich who are seen to be solving problems are actually those causing them.

Child slavery like poverty, illiteracy, disease, war, hunger, corruption and all the misery afflicting the human race have one thing in common – they result from (the use of) money. Before I explain the relationship between these tribulations and money, one point will have to be noted. That is that a wrong notion is preached by the ideologues of the present system (who of course formulate and control public opinion) that human needs are unlimited whilst resources are limited. Therefore only those who have money can meet their needs. This kind of misinformation is wicked and malicious. On the contrary money is the root cause of all the woes we live with. A few examples will suffice here.

The most important human need is food. Available records indicate that world food production is far higher than the quantity required to go round all mankind. However because of money food is locked away in huge quantities just to make super profits in the form of money from those who have it. In fact sometimes they callously dump food into the sea or even refuse to cultivate arable land. This, just to maintain high prices.

Another problem facing mankind is sickness. The pharmaceutical industry is so advanced that enough drugs and medicines can be produced to prevent and cure most illnesses. Yet this will never be done and people will continue to die because they cannot afford medicines as these are manufactured and locked up in drug-stores reserved only for the few who can pay. The recent lawsuit brought by the South African government against some western pharmaceutical companies on the issue of HIV/AIDS medicines is a typical example of inhumanity of money. The owners of the companies may publicly declare that they help mankind, yet when it comes to their money and profit they refuse to allow cheap drugs to be produced for sick people who cannot afford the expensive ones they produce for the rich. One could go on and on.

Thus until the money factor is eliminated and in its place, a system based on free access is practised, child slavery; child soldiers, mass murders; war; want and deprivation, etc will continue to live with us.

The question now is: how can mankind attain this money-free society of free and equal access to goods and services? Part of the wealth bequeathed to us by those who preceded us in this world is written records of how society came about, underwent changes and how we can improve upon our life today. Marx, Engels, William Morris, etc are some of such thinkers. People who agree that there is something wrong with our society will have to acquaint themselves with the literature that these precursors have put down and lots more by others who think on the same lines. Once people understand these theories of change then they may want them implemented for the benefit of mankind and together we can make a change.

Suhuyini