Sexism in Bollywood

By Faria Athar
August 7, 2015

MUMBAI, India – Bollywood, the sobriquet for India’s $3-billion dollar Hindi film industry, is filled with immense colour, vigor and light. It has vociferous dance sequences, tear-jerking dialogues and a whole lot of sexism.

Lyrics from some of its famous musicals like ”Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast” and “Fevicol se” include calling the female protagonist an “awesome thing”, a firecracker, a piece of meat and such. But the lyrics seem banal when compared to the music videos that accompany them, men dancing along to music, while the hero abuses, catcalls or physically mishandles his “girl”. And in the end the hero ends up getting the girl and they live happily ever after.

Plotlines like these have thrived in this 100-year-old business of the rich, the pretty and the privileged. While Bollywood’s massive appeal is astounding, it is also incredibly scary. With its objectification of women and portrayal of an always win-win situation for men, Bollywood is criticized for being chimerical, unrealistic and an instigator for the rapes and sexual atrocities committed in India.

So recently when Deepika Padukone, an extremely popular Bollywood actress stood up for feminism, hearts ignited. Her message was released as a video in collaboration with Vogue India. It was a viral hit. Men and women began sharing it all over social media, and in the span of a couple of days it had millions of views on YouTube. It was being lauded for its independence and power, but slowly criticism rolled in.

The video titled “My Choice: Women Empower” shows the actress talking about how it’s her choice (or rather a woman’s) to wear the clothes she likes, to be a size zero or a size fifteen or to have sex outside marriage.

This is all wonderful. Of course it’s a woman’s choice to do want she wants with her life, but was the video fair to all?

In a country where, according to UNESCO, the female literacy rate is only about 50% and an alarming gender wage gap is present across all sectors, the actress’s problems seem to be the last on an Indian woman’s mind.

Being a woman is difficult in India. If you manage to escape female foeticide (the act of aborting a foetus because it is female), its takes only a few years before you are married off as a child bride with a significant amount of your parents’ income given to your groom’s family as dowry. When you get older, your education is your parents’, your husband’s or his family’s will. In urban India, you may not face these difficulties, but constant prejudice and fear of harassment follow you around like a shadow. These issues form major impediments to women’s empowerment.

India’s version of feminism, as portrayed in the media and in this ”empowering” video, never sheds light on female empowerment. Rather the focus is on liberation from Indian forms of clothing, music and customs, which translates to Westernization. This feels shallow and superficial. It creates negative stereotypes about the modern and conservative woman that harms feminism more than benefiting it. And while body issues are important, they are not central to feminism. Empowering women has great potential in India with some serious implications for the country’s economy, politics and progress. It is great to have celebrities with such mass appeal endorse feminism, but it would be even more powerful if it focused on issues to educate women about their rights, health and professional development, eventually helping promote equality and female leadership in Indian society.

And now the hypocrisy: The video shows actresses with beautiful hair and skin and fails to include size 15 women or even those that are close to a size 10. The star herself endorses products to promote weight loss and skin lightning (in accordance with the Indian belief that dark skin is inferior to light skin and thus should be altered).

The video is also over-sexualized. Pre- and extra-marital sex are taboo in India. And while it’s a woman’s choice, there is nothing particularly empowering about either. This type of feminism is flawed and doesn’t resonate with the average Indian girl’s wants or needs. Yes, breaking the rules is necessary to empower women, but sometimes it may result in losing friends and family. Young girls and women must instead be encouraged to bring about change within their societies. Confusing feminism with nudity or excessive Westernization repels women who want progress for themselves and their daughters. It presents feminism as a monolithic facade, which further alienates women from their culture and creates a long-lasting negative stereotype that fails to empower India’s women.

Feminist movements, however, haven’t completely failed in India. After the gang-rape of a student in Delhi in 2012, various organizations started to focus on women’s issues. While some took to the streets to protest rape, others have made long-standing contributions to women’s rights

One such movement started in Bundelkhand (Northern India), a place rife with domestic violence, child labour and widespread female illiteracy. Women of the region gathered to form a gang called “Gulabi (Pink) Gang” to fight their detrimental patriarchal culture. They call themselves “Rural Women In Pink Saris, Wielding Broomsticks In Pursuit Of Justice”. These women who themselves come from poor families or the lower castes (Dalit), have successfully stopped several child marriages, overcome corruption in several levels of administration and worked to eradicate the dowry system and violence against women. Since their movement has gained momentum, they’ve also participated in local elections and won.

“For the People and By The People” has worked splendidly in India with regards to feminism. And this is the model that seems to garner the most attention and bring about change.

Girl on Wire

By Faria Athar
July 8, 2013

MUMBAI, India – Tension, anxiety and concentration. The girl’s face is a collage of emotions.

A young girl of about 10 years old does what most people would not dream of doing: balancing on a tightrope. Some may dismiss it as childish, but her perseverance and hard work say otherwise. It is clear she has put in hours of hard work to master this craft — it is easy to imagine that her next venture would be making her way across the rope on a wheel.

It is an extraordinary moment in an everyday setting. The plastic, hoardings and formal shirts all signal globalization among this spectrum of Indian colors. The girl, too, exhibits her bit of Indian revelry. The sparkly earrings, tiny nose ring, bangles and prominent metal pots on her head bear testimony to her village heritage. Her clothes may not be extraordinary, but her profound facial expressions give her more dignity than any other assets could offer her.

She balances on a thin rope tied between two colored wooden sticks. The pole she holds onto for balance looks heavy, weighing her down in ways both tangible and immaterial. Look carefully and you will see that it is tied around her neck and the thought of an albatross comes to mind. The men in the picture don’t seem to be looking at her. They have seen it all before.

Walking on a tightrope is probably not her ‘talent,’ nor does it come ‘naturally’ to her. It is the result of several hours of “deep and deliberate practice,” and the outcome of much failure and perseverance. Here the cost of failing is dangerous and painful — and if the tightrope is situated high enough, perhaps even fatal. The studied expression on the girl’s face indicates practice and perseverance, but also a hint of fear. One can only guess. She is not telling.

Unfortunately, the rewards she gains each day after all her practice are not very impressive, but she does not let that deter her. She will be here again tomorrow, and many more brave children all over the world will do the same. They are applauded and appreciated for their effort, but does this attention make them happy?

Although it is nice to think of rosy images of a brave young girl or boy, the real issue is hidden in plain sight: This is probably the most prevalent form of child labor you will see in India. Typically — outside the frame — one will see her parents or other adults collecting money from the spectators who have come to watch.  The money they get may not be much, but it is enough to feed the family for a night. A carnival, the hustle of traffic and of people, makes business better and perhaps more profitable by the end of the day.

The sad part of such depictions of sheer bravery is that they are so common; people watching hardly consider the scene to be child exploitation. It is a sunny afternoon in the picture, so the girl has evidently skipped school to perform and earn her keep. The question that must be asked is, does she even go to school?

This child may not have all the credentials or accolades to call herself  ‘great’, but she has the courage and bravery necessary to be successful in her own right.

Going Green

By Emiliano Vera Jr.
July 5, 2013

LOS ANGELES, Ca.: I would love to live in a community that is healthy, clean and energy-efficient. Growing up in the streets of Los Angeles, where thinking green isn’t a concern, I have seen the dirtiest streets–it is not a pretty sight. This leads me to wonder: If many parts of a big city look like that, what does the rest of the world look like?

Now that we are running out of resources and we are realizing the Earth is changing at a dramatic rate, commercials, posters and even politicians are urging us to find ways to help save energy and cause less pollution. Why? There are many reasons.

One reason is saving money. By saving energy–which means turning off lights that are not being used, unplugging any unnecessary devices from outlets, etc.–electricity costs can be reduced while helping the environment at the same time. But some people either do not know or care about these facts and currently don’t make saving energy and fighting pollution a priority.

Crystal Penaloza, a student from Santee High School, noted, “We all know what’s the right thing to do, but we don’t make it a priority.” I agree, because when people, including myself, see people litter, we often just continue with our day instead of doing something about it.

I have my own reason why we should go green. Walking in the streets of Los Angeles can be an adventure–and not a fun one. You could walk on one block and it might be in decent shape, but another might be dirty and smelly.

But who wouldn’t want to live a community that is healthy and vibrant? The only way a community can be as clean as possible is if everyone in the community is involved and communicates. This leads to less conflict and teaches kids that keeping the streets clean is the right thing to do.

Thinking green should become a worldwide habit, because we all live on the same planet. Even if we are keeping our part of the world clean, another might be polluted, and we will all be affected by that, too.

I am a student from Santee High School, and as someone who enjoys nature, it makes me sad that the planet is being destroyed by bags of chips and pollution from motor vehicles and that I am one of the few people I know who practice green thinking in daily life. I would like to spread information about why being green is important and how to take steps to save the planet.


Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Put Down the Guns, America

By Steve Helmeci
March 14, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – I’m sure we’ve all heard about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting late last year. It’s a depressing topic, and everyone would agree that the shooting was a horrendous, saddening act. However, it called into question the gun culture in America, and I would argue that it’s time that we worked to reverse this country’s propensity towards violence.

It’s time for full-scale gun control. The production and distribution of handguns and military-style assault rifles to private citizens should be made illegal, if only to buck the trend of violence.

By all means, keep the hunting rifles and shotguns. Guns for sport are understandable, even useful for sustenance in some situations. I highly doubt, though, that handguns or semi-automatic assault rifles are necessary for hunting.

It is appalling to me that 33 people die daily in this country from gun violence, mostly precipitated by personal handguns or assault rifles. That makes 12,045 people a year on average. It’s despicable.

Despite the propensity for some people with mental illnesses to commit heinous crimes, it can be proven that access to firearms only increases the carnage. In China, on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, a man entered a school with the intent to murder. Not a single person was killed, though, because the man entered with a knife, not a gun. I think it’s safe to assume that he was not mentally stable, so, that makes the death totals guns-26, knives-0 in the same circumstance.

The arguments for having personal guns baffle me. When the Second Amendment was written, it provided for militias to protect the American citizens from foreign invasion or attacks by Native Americans. These issues simply don’t exist anymore. We have the largest and most formidable army in the world, nullifying the threat of foreign invasion as well as the need for citizen militias. I don’t think we have to worry about Native Americans as a threat anymore, either.

Benjamin Franklin himself said that the Constitution was created to be amended and changed with the times. In case it has gone unnoticed, the times have changed massively since 1790, and we need to adapt to ensure peace and tranquility at home.

As for the self-defense argument, you’ll be far more likely to use your gun to kill yourself or a family member than a criminal. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 19,766 suicides by firearm were committed in 2011. And, according to the Violence Policy Center, having a gun in your house makes it three times more likely that you or someone you care about will be killed by a friend or family member in your own home. Compare those numbers to the FBI’s confirmed average of just 213 self-defense shootings per year over the period of 2005-2010, and suddenly owning a gun to defend yourself doesn’t look as necessary.

After Columbine; Virginia Tech; Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ assassination attempt in Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide; the Oregon shopping mall; Sandy Hook; and the countless other horrific acts of gun violence that occur daily from homicides to robberies and assassination attempts, you’d think we would have seen enough.

68% of all murders in the United States were committed with personal firearms, and, based on a 10-year trend studied by the Center for Disease Control, gun deaths will number 33,000 by 2015—an amount that would exceed the projected number of automobile deaths in the same year. Guns are a major problem, and it needs to be remedied.

It won’t be immediate. It’ll be fought by gun lobbyists and owners alike, but if making the production and distribution of handguns and assault rifles illegal takes a few guns off the street and saves a few people each year, then we’re doing our job as civilized humans.

It’s not too late to reverse the awful gun culture in this country. Let’s make sure those 20 children did not die in vain. Let’s make sure none of the countless victims of gun violence died in vain.

Students’ Online Rights: Cyberspace’s Uncharted Territory

By Steve Helmeci
Jan. 7, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – Between Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, students have at their fingertips a host of new ways to express themselves and to voice their grievances. However, the success of these different media serves to call into question the issue of what rights students have online.

From the streets of Cairo, Egypt, to nearby Plum Borough, Pennsylvania, students are exercising their right to protest what they deem unsatisfactory. When the recent Plum Senior High School Twitter campaign, #brownbagginit, trended in the local area, it resulted in the abandonment of the school-provided service for packed lunches by a majority of students.

While it is not apparent that any students suffered any punishment as a result of the Plum lunch boycott, punitive measures have been handed down across the country due to student online activism. However, such punishments are often appealed through the court system, and more often than not the courts have sided with the student.

For example, in Layshock vs. Hermitage School District, a Pennsylvania court upheld the First Amendment rights of a student who created a parody MySpace account of a school administrator. Even cases such as Tinker vs. Des Moines upheld the First Amendment rights of students.

Because of precedents set by various federal and state court cases, students have a fair amount of First Amendment protection under the law. While individual states have their own laws and precedents, an organization called the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) in Washington, D.C. is mandated to protect the First Amendment rights of students across the country.

According to Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the SPLC, Pennsylvania is a state where the courts have not come to a definitive ruling; therefore there is little in the way of precedent to protect students’ rights. However, “students should always appeal discipline [for matters regarding their rights] all the way up the chain of command,” LoMonte said. “Unless you threaten the school with violence, it should not materially and substantially effect the school day.”

Another point LoMonte made was that simply being annoying to a person or isolated incidents of rudeness online should not result in punitive measures being meted out by school staff. “It’s that person’s fault for bringing it to school if you’re only annoying them,” he said. While LoMonte does not condone online bullying, he does not think that simply embarrassing someone should result in punishment by the school.

In grade-level assemblies earlier this year at Mt. Lebanon High School, Unit Three Principal Mr. Peter Berg vaguely referenced a policy regarding punishment for the activities of students on online social networking sites. The brief overview left Mt. Lebanon students wondering exactly what was acceptable online and what sort of disciplinary action the school could take regarding online social networking.

One of the points of contention for students was whether or not school administrators had the right to visit students’ private social networking pages.

“We don’t,” Principal Berg said. “Let me clarify that. The school is never in the position to go out and look at students’ private Facebook pages, so the notion that any of the unit principals here are generally getting on your pages and looking at them, that’s not accurate.”

While school officials have the right to act on issues deemed outside the protection of the First Amendment, such as harassment or assault, they never become involved in online incidents unless they are handed a hard copy or print-out of the issue at hand, according to Berg.

Even then, the school is not always in a position to address the issue. “The bullying policy is very explicit about what we can follow up on,” Berg said. “The policy talks about behaviors that are severe or persistent in nature and that fall under harassment.”

School administrators operate on the basis of reasonable cause. While it is a far lower standard than law enforcement’s probable cause, school officials cannot enter private social networking sites for any reason, even in the case of a tip to administrators about illicit online activity. “[A student] coming in as a hearsay person saying this is happening on Facebook doesn’t help me,” Berg said. “At that point I’d say bring it to me, and when the hard copy is sitting in front of me I’d have a chance to read it, interpret it, and to make some subjective judgments about the persistence, severity, pervasiveness, and if this is really impacting the school environment.”

Another point of confusion was the language “interferes with the educational process” regarding illicit student expression. This language was used during the grade level assemblies and is in the student handbook as well.

“It has to be significant,” Berg said. Unless a situation is deemed persistent and pervasive, the school cannot and will not act against students.

Students should be aware, however, that while the school is relatively unable to act with regards to goings-on outside of school, administrators have more access to information shared with the school’s network and wifi because they have oversight.

In reality, there are not too many differences between the policy of the school and the SPLC. The main point of contention is the grey area created by the lack of precedent law that exists when it comes to social media issues. The school will often side with the distressed student, while the SPLC will more often than not side with the student who is arguing for their First Amendment rights.

Jagan’s Story: Child Labor in India

By Faria Athar
December 13, 2012

Outside, the night was cold and its chilly winds made Jagan shudder as he lay in his thatched hut. Mosquitoes were hovering over him and seemed to suck both his blood and energy out of him. Lying quietly on the thin mattress, he reflected on his life.

Jagan Peters Reddy is an 18-year-old living in the slums of Orissa in Eastern India. He lives in a family of five, of which only he is able-bodied, the rest being either too weak or dependent on toddy, a country-made liquor, for their existence. He has no education but considers himself lucky enough to have learned his numbers and alphabet from the city-bred child for whom his mother worked.

Antony, Jagan’s brother, is twelve. A few years after his birth, the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in India, which required the state to provide free and compulsory elementary education to all children from poor families. It became a law a year later, in 2010. Antony thus had the privilege to go to school. It was not his choice; his father forced it upon him. Although he would rather have had his son working as a mason, he was lured by the scholarship money they would receive from the government if Antony went to school.

Jagan wanted his brother to receive an education. He feels that if Antony did well in school, he would get a good job in the reserved sector. Jagan himself had worked as a farmer with his father but was forced into masonry when the rains failed. His mother’s employer had warned her, saying that if Jagan did menial work without an education she could be arrested for child labor. However, she could do nothing but nod and carry on.

For his part, Jagan does not see much value in education. He thinks education is ‘highly overrated,’ though he knows that  it might lead to long-term gains, but they are not his priority. He lives in the perils of poverty and needs money to help him and his family survive for the day. The future is too far-fetched. As the rains failed, his father had quit working and taken refuge in toddy. The teenager is now the only ray of hope left for his family.

But Jagan isn’t alone. According to an International Confederation of Free Trade Unions report, there are as many as 60 million children working in India’s agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates India to be the largest employer of laborers below 14, with about 70% of child labor deployed in agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Child labor is rampant in almost all sectors of the Indian economy.

UNICEF highlights poverty as the root cause of child labor. The report suggests that in impoverished parts of the world, where schools and teachers are unavailable, children have no real and meaningful alternative. The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” It has been severely condemned by the Indian Constitution in the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Jagan’s sister often goes to church to attend mass. The clergy supported families like hers and contributed substantially to their economic uplift. Jagan accompanies her sometimes, not for religious motives but because he managed to meet some of his friends there. Like Jagan and his family, they have converted to Christianity.

This story of Jagan’s family is the reality of many Indian households, with unemployed men at home and children working in mills, over 42% of India’s population remains under the poverty line (UNICEF). According to the latest report for 2011-12 published by the Union Ministry of Labor and Employment, over 47 million Indians are unemployed. These high rates have led to an increase in child labor.  Unemployed parents and paucity of money are the main factors that have led many Indian children to join the work force. The traders see them as cheap and quick labor compared to their adult counterparts.

The recent case of Tirumalasetty Venkateswarlu, a seven-year-old who was engaged in bonded labor and was burnt, caned and ultimately killed for asking permission to go home, highlights the conditions in which such children live. According to his father, Tirumala used to work at his master’s house and business all throughout the day but was tortured and paid very little. Tirumala was forced to work as his parents had allegedly failed to repay a loan taken from the master. The master had taken Tirumala away from his family for the last few months when his parents stopped going to the farm where they had been working as bonded labor to repay the loan, according to The Deccan Chronicle.

With child labor so common in India, the question arises: Is there anything that can be done to stop it? Other than the governmental steps of banning child labor and implementing free education, a lot can be done on an individual scale. Many Indians look at such children with pity and think they are doing good by hiring them, and this factor contributes greatly to the problem. If everyone refuses to employ them, this practice can be mitigated. Awareness campaigns, legal petitions and public education can also contribute greatly towards reducing child labor.

Lost Girls

By Faria Athar
August 21, 2012

NEW DELHI, India – Female feticide, the practice of aborting a female fetus, is increasing in India with improved access to gender tests and continued preference for male children.

Determining a fetus’ gender was once only an option for the rich because it was expensive. For those who did not want a girl but could not afford such testing, the alternative was female infanticide: the killing of a female infant. But both practices raise the same question: Why don’t Indians want female children?

The issue is in striking contrast to the fact that Indians worship many goddesses and praise them for their beauty and benevolence. The goddesses form an integral part of Indian culture and are always honored. And yet, more than a million female fetuses are aborted annually in India, according to an article published in 2010 in the journal Issues in Law & Medicine.

According to the article, exorbitant dowry rates are probably the most potent cause of female feticide. Men are considered the breadwinners of the family, and it is believed that male children contribute money to the family, while female children cost the family a lot of money.

During a marriage, the bride’s parents are expected to pay the groom in either cash or property for marrying their daughters. What started as a rupee or two has now become thousands and millions of rupees.

Except for a few states in India, Indian society is patriarchal, and family lineage and inheritance are passed down to the male child, while girls are considered financial burdens who are born just to get married.

Nikita Bharti, a 10th grade student, believes that she has been discriminated against because of her gender.

“They (her grandparents) never liked me because I was a girl. I mean my grandmother, when my brother was born, she had a huge celebration and inconsolably thanked god, but when I was born they did nothing for me. They were rather sad and did not even come to receive me,” Bharti said.

The feelings Bharti expresses have much broader implications. According to an article in The Hindu from May 27, 2012, an infant girl was beaten and ultimately killed by her vengeful father who intended it to be his hate reply to his wife for giving birth to a girl. The father later confessed his crime and was arrested.

The Indian government introduced the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1996 and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971 to curb female feticide and infanticide. However, in 2007, Reuters reported that the United Nations estimates approximately 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.

Meanwhile, the number of girls born in India is falling. In 2011, the ratio of female children to males born was 914 to 1000, compared with 933 to 1000 in 2001, according to the Census of India.

It is believed that female feticide started in cities, not in villages. An Indian reality show, “Satyamev Jayate,” highlighted the case of one such woman, Dr. Meetu Khurana, who is a doctor from an affluent family of orthopedics and professors from the capital city of Delhi.
She refused to do a sex determination test, so her husband’s family plotted against her and got the test done under the guise of a kidney scan. The test results said she had twin girls in her womb, after which her family ordered her to abort them. She refused and gave birth to her daughters, although her husband’s family had never accepted them at the time of the television show.

The Struggle of Sex Education

Children Work on the Streets of Brazil’s Capital City

By Bruna Santos
July 08, 2009

BRASILIA, Brazil – Child labor in Brasília is becoming more common day by day. The laboring children work mostly on the streets selling candies, flowers, stickers and other small items. Some perform services, such as watching over cars or washing them in public parking lots. Others shine shoes.

Brasília has 2 million inhabitants and is the city with highest per capita income in the country, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But research done by the Federal Policy Department shows that about 7,512 children are now working on the streets.

Most of these children come from low-income families, and their parents do not have a steady job or do not make enough money to take care of their children. So, the children work on the streets to help buy food and pay for bills.

“These children do not have good life prospects because the work denies them a normal life, and they don’t even have dreams,” said Geraldo Marcelino dos Santos, 34, the president of the Public Tutelary Council in Novo Gama, a neighboring city.

The Brazilian National Congress approved the Statute of Children and Adolescents in July 1990 to guarantee children the right to health care, proper nutrition, education, leisure activities, a home, and other essentials. Almost 20 years later, the situation has improved but is far from ideal.

For too many children here, these rights simply do not exist. Instead, they carry heavy obligations for their young ages. “I sell stickers because my mom is pregnant, and my father doesn’t have enough money to keep our family,” said Marcos, a 13-year-old boy who did not want his last name published out of fear that his parents would beat him.

Wesley Pereira, 12, and his brothers, Walisson Pereira, 14, and Wellington Pereira, 16, sell candy at a busy downtown intersection for 9 hours a day. They have been working at that intersection for more than a year, said Wesley. They earn about 150 reais ($68 U.S.) a day, but must spend 60 reais ($28 U.S.) of that to buy candy for the next day, they said. That means the three brothers take home a combined 90 reais — $41 U.S., or less than $14 each per day. That may not seem like much but it’s more than the minimum wage their mother would earn if she worked as a housemaid. The boys said their mother is unemployed and the father died a year ago.

“It’s very common to have parents who are unemployed for a long time to put their kids to work,” said dos Santos. “One of the reasons is because they get more money than if the parents worked full-time on unskilled jobs.”

Wesley said his mother worries about them working on streets because it is dangerous. When the traffic light is red and the cars stop, the brothers run between them offering candies. But when the traffic light changes and the cars start moving again, the boys must get out of the way quickly. “My mother is afraid we will get run over,” he said.

Child labor in Brasilia is not new. Celso Maurício da Silva, 50, said he worked as a child. “I was 6 years old when I started working,” said da Silva. “We had a big family: my mother and four children. My mother used to make homemade bread and I would sell it in the morning before going to school and in the afternoon, after school.”

He said he gave the money he earned to his mother. “She would pay the bills and buy food for us,” he recalled. “I used to work weekends as well. When I had time, I played soccer or something like that, but it was just a few times.”

He finished high school when he was 20, and became a taxi driver. “Nowadays, I have three daughters and I don’t want them to work,” he said. “It is not right for children to work because they lack time to play. I know it because it happened to me.”

Scarred Feet and Mournful Eyes: Manila’s 4 Million Street Children

By Mark Robert B. Baldo
July 05, 2009

ScarredFeetMANILA, Philippines – Sitting on a tattered carton, Angelika, 11, waits patiently. As soon as the commuter train unloads its passengers, Angelika jumps into the middle with hands outstretched and her fingers curled in the universal gesture of begging. Her mournful eyes are enough to merit 25 Philippines pesos, about $0.50 US, which she happily jingles with her brother when the commuters have gone.

Angelika is only one of the millions of children working on the streets in and around Manila, the capital city, and elsewhere in the Philippines. In other parts of metropolitan Manila,children collect recyclables and sell them to junkyards for a handful of bills and coins.ScarredFeet2

Rex, 10, is the son of a construction worker and attends public school. But this summer he convinced his parents to let him work so he could contribute to the family’s expenses. With a garbage bag in hand, he roams Quezon City collecting recyclable plastic bottles left by university students.

He works with his 9-year-old friend, Ericson. “His mother left him,” Rex said. “She just went away. He does not even know her name.”

With a far-off gaze, Ericson nodded and said he sleeps in public building and begs for food when business is poor. “It has been three years now since I have been left by my mother,” he said.

Manila’s street children work barefoot, and scars and wounds are evident on their feet. Rex recalled one child, called Botsok, who died last year. “He stepped on a stick and he got a fever,” Rex said. “His parents could not bring him to the hospital so he died.”

Ericson said the boys regretted not being able to attend Botsok’s funeral. “We would have to take a public vehicle, which is costly for us,” Ericson said. He said he earns just 10 to 30 pesos a day, about $0.20 to $0.63 US, while fare for public transportation costs nearly 10 pesos.

ScarredFeet3The Philippine National Statistics Office estimates that 4 million child laborers work in the Philippines, despite laws meant to prohibit the exploitation of children. The NSO also estimates that about 30 percent of those children do not receive any schooling.

They come from low-income families and their parents are unemployed, which often means the children end up working long hours to support their families, with no time for school. Some beg for coins, as Angelika does. Others collect recyclables like Rex and Ericson. Still others sell flowers to churchgoers or rags to motorists, while others jump into public buses to shine passengers’ shoes.

Despite the hardship of their lives, these children sometimes manage to squeeze some fun out of their daily routine of work. That much is evident as Angelika gently laughs while her brother wrestles with her.