Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
Established in 1991 by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), June 16th is the Day of the African Child. Every year the day draws attention to issues facing African youth and it also recognizes the Soweto Uprising. In 1976 on this day, thousands of students in the South African township of Soweto organized a mass rally to protest apartheid and specific education policies of the apartheid regime (like using Afrikaans as the language of instruction). Police fired on the students and killed a number of protesters.
It is fitting that this day is recognized as the Day of the African Child because it recognizes the agency and the power of youth in fighting for social justice. This year's theme is "Right to Participation: Let Children be Seen and Heard." The students involved in the Soweto Uprising and youth all around the world are claiming their right to be seen and heard and to participate. At ILRF, a lot of the work that we do relates to ending the worst forms of child labor and we thought we would take this opportunity to help amplify the voices of working children around the world.
Below are quotations from the affidavits of two children working on Firestone's rubber plantation in Liberia. You can read more affidavits here and here. Brothers Daniel Flomo (16 years old) and Boimah Flomo (12 years old) describe their experiences on the plantation.
Daniel Flomo: "I started working on the Firestone Plantation when I was 7 years of age. My first tasks included cleaning latex cups, slashing grass with a machete, laying panel and collecting latex. When I turned 10 years old, I also began applying chemicals to the rubber trees and taking cuplon and latex to the tank. At the time I was applying chemicals, Firestone did not provide me with any protective equipment. I never say any worker with protective equipment. I still work at the Firestone Plantation today. On a typical day I work from 4 am to 4 pm.
"I have a 5th grade education. I was unable to continue my education because, while I was away spending a weekend with my father, the plantation tore down the one-room apartment where I lived and I lost my uniform and other school materials. I was forced to leave school and re-join my father at Division 9.
"I was injured twice while working. I have a scar on my left foot from slashing grass with a machete. The other is a protruding nod on my head when I fell with a bucketful of cuplons. I got private treatment by a health worker who is a friend of my father. I had to go to the health worker because I got this injury outside of the regular days alloted to workers for treatment at any health post run by the plantation."
Boimah Flomo: "I started working on the Firestone Plantation when I was 6 years of age... I currently have a deep cut on the bottoms of my feet from having stepped on broken bottles while helping on the plantation. A year ago, I fell and rolled down a hill into a valley with a bucket of latex. I suffered bruises and I only received private treatment at a clinic.
"I never consented to working on the Firestone Plantation. I was never offered the choice. Sometimes the Firestone Supervisor would thank me for helping my father and give me money for candy. They told me to continue to help my father, but to hide at the sound of approaching cars or strangers. I understood that my family would starve if I did not go to work to complete our family's quota each day. I never received any pay for working on the plantation and my father did not receive any extra money for the work I did. I felt forced to work on the plantation. On many occasions, I became very angry and even refused to join my father at the plantation. Sometimes my brother, Daniel, held me by the hand and nearly dragged me to the plantation. As a family, we had to complete the daily quota. It was not possible for my father to do this work alone. On numerous occasions, Firestone Supervisors saw me working on the plantation with my father."
Check out the video below to hear children talking about their experiences working on the Firestone plantation in Liberia.
Child labor is also used in the production of cocoa beans in Africa. Check out this report from the BBC to hear some interviews with child workers in the cocoa industry.