By Alesha Mitchell, Communications Intern
I knew about its existence in Africa, in Asia, and even some parts of Europe, but never have I heard of child labor right here in the United States. June 12 was World Day Against Child Labor, and the Child Labor Coalition in conjunction with The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, held a congressional briefing.
The briefing was hosted by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) as well as Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX). The congressional hosts, victims, and advocates all met to discuss child labor and child domestic workers. Each of the panel members took us on a journey through the lives of child domestic workers. Upon meeting the panel, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) reminded us that this is one of few issues that has bipartisan support. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) suggested, “We can’t just look globally, we have to start right here…at home.” Many of us in the audience never knew we had to consider this regressive issue in our progressive country.
Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch introduced us to a young girl named Fatima who is a child domestic worker in Morocco. Fatima, at a very young age, cared for children that were not her own, was only allowed to eat twice a day, and was beaten if her tasks were not completed flawlessly. Fatima was not provided education and was not allowed to visit her family. Fatima told Jo that she did not mind working, but she did not deserve to be beaten and starved. As an advocate for human rights, I believe neither Fatima nor any other child should ever endure involuntary servitude. Unfortunately, we learned from the next speaker that right in our own backyard, people in America are treated as slaves.
Evelyn Chumbow, a child domestic worker turned survivor, was abducted from her home in Cameroon at the age of nine. She was brought to the US and lived as a household servant from the ages of 9-17. She spoke about the horrific encounters of being beaten and assaulted during her years of enslavement. Without the help of a priest, foster care, and trafficking prevention organizations, Evelyn could have remained in her oppressed state. She would not have the courage to speak out about this growing epidemic as she does today.
With Congress unwilling to move forward with this much needed legislation, the onus falls on the American people to pressure our lawmakers to make the right decision and do what is in their power to protect child domestic workers abroad and in America.
The Child Labor Coalition, in it’s 25th year, is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers.