Saturday, December 3, 2011

Translation: Morally unacceptable

Elsewhere it Latin America, where various forms of child labour are widespread, the sight of a child working in a family business would hardly raise eyebrows.

In my own country, Australia, there appears to be no minimum age for such child labour provided that it occurs outside school hours and doesn't affect the child's study. In the state of Victoria, "parents employing their children in a family business are not required to observe the general conditions of employment relating to age restrictions, hours of work or rest breaks" (source).

In Cuba, the school system strives not only for the rounded intellectual and physical development of children and adolescents, but for an appreciation of labour as both a right and a duty in a socialist-oriented society that aims to ultimately do away with the division — inherent in all forms of class society — between manual and intellectual labour.

Based on the ideas of national independence hero Jose Marti, as well as those of the Marxist tradition, a symbolic contribution to agricultural work in the countryside has been part of student life for decades. The sons and daughters of peasants, factory workers, administrators and government ministers work alongside each other harvesting potatoes and picking grapefruit. This, however, is education for working life rather than child labour.

In Cuba, all forms of child labour are prohibited. Hence the distress and moral outrage of the Granma reader in the letter below. In an interview published in the Spring 2010 edition of the International Journal of Cuban Health and Medicine's magazine MEDICC Review, UNICEF's Cuba representative, Spaniard Jose Juan Ortiz, commented:

I always say that applying the tenets of the [UN] Convention of the Rights of the Child isn't a question of resources, but rather one of political will. Cuba has demonstrated that a country doesn’t need to be rich to protect children’s rights. The Convention has been in place for 20 years and we’re still talking about hundreds of millions of children living in the street, not in school, or enslaved as labourers or sex workers, but not one of those children is Cuban and that’s due to the government’s political will to create a protective, rights-based environment. In Cuba, this protective environment is based in the family and the community, but extends to the provincial, national, and ultimately international level in cooperation with agencies like UNICEF. By guaranteeing social and community development, the Cuban government has shown the political will to provide for and protect children. This is also what has allowed Cuba to achieve health outcomes on par with the world’s most developed countries.
This Granma letter is notable not only for what it conveys about the sanctity of childhood in Cuba and the acute sensitivity of Cuba's revolutionaries in this regard. Also important is the fact that drawing attention to such a stain on the Revolution's pride in the national press is no longer considered taboo. Editorial policy is shifting from "don't talk about that, it will demoralise people and give the enemy a stick to beat us with", to "we must see things as they are, rather than as we'd like them to be."  

Morally unacceptable

By L. Martínez, Granma letter to the editor, December 2, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I never thought I’d be writing about this, when the cornerstone of my discussions with my six year old daughter is the protection of childhood in our Cuba that, while imperfect, is the country that I want for her, her sister, their friends and their own children one day.

Last Sunday we went to the Coconut Island Park on the corner of 5th Avenue and 112 Street [in Havana]. It was very nice: not many people, not too hot, and with many of the rides in working order. We invited our little neighbour of the same age. Between his family and ours there are bonds of affectionate friendship, above all because the little boy is educated in the same values that we try to instill in our children. At the end of the visit, upon leaving the park, we froze at the sight: a child, no more than nine or 10 years old, selling toys, stickers, and all that plastic paraphernalia that is emerging in all the recreational centres where the parents go to drop off their kids. His stall was situated in front of the place where they do painted tattoos, just at the entrance/exit of the park, very visible.

On seeing his face as he talked prices and haggled with the buyers, a great fear came over me. The fear of losing the most precious thing we have for the sake of sending a message of openness and tolerance towards the new economic policy that we're getting used to. It’s impossible that those responsible for these establishments, the park supervisors and other authorities, are not aware of this. Later, I recalled that we’d seen him before, leading the ponies for children’s rides at Monte Barreto Park. At the time I didn’t think he was “working”, but that his family had let him do it for fun. Now I realise that it wasn't so; I should have said something there and then and I feel terrible for not having done so.

Who controls this? Who checks that the children of the parents who have these stalls aren't being made to work? I wish this didn’t happen! I hope it’s just an isolated case!

Not only because it’s a gross and serious violation of the law, but because it is morally unacceptable.

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