Bread or Freedom? Can both be an option?

Divakaruni’s Essay “Live Free and Starve” addresses the importance and gravity of understanding all of the consequences of making a decision, especially a decision that involves the welfare of a large group of people.  This is especially exemplified in the bill that was introduced in Congress in an effort to ban goods made by means of child labor.  This not only affects the consumers of America in the products they buy, but it has a huge impact on the child laborers, creating implications that reach far beyond the injustices of child labor.  Although Congress is attempting to show concern for and awareness of the unreasonable child labor in other countries, they are also showing their ignorance or lack of concern for the responsibility that the children have to support their families through the jobs that they are offered. Divakaruni offers an insightful question when she wonders, “if the children were asked whether they would rather work under such hard conditions or enjoy a leisure that comes without the benefit of food or clothing or shelter…what their response would be.”   In essence congress is attempting to decipher which is more important for the children and their families.  Do they “prefer bread to freedom?” The Congress is then faced with finding a way to choose the lesser of two evils, giving freedom to children, but losing the sustainability of a family, or allowing children to continue to work in such hard conditions in order to support themselves and their family. A major flaw in the policy of the bill that was created is that those that created the policy are looking at the “rest of the world as though it were happening in this country” therefore, their solutions fit best in the context of our society, rather than the extremely impoverished, suffering, and struggling families in Third World countries.  In my opinion Congress is taking an important stand against child labor, especially since our society has a major impact on the mass production of goods in Third World countries by means of unjust conditions, but I do not believe that they have developed a solution that will effectively aid the children that they are trying to protect. In fact, by taking away their work, the children will continue to suffer, just in a different form and setting. Through unemployment they will lose the benefits of that enable them to contribute to the necessary elements of survival for their family such as food and shelter.  I believe that Congress can make a positive difference in child labor, but they must go beyond simply banning products made by means of child labor, because this will simply cause another problem for the people.  I agree with Divakarumi that such a bill is useless “unless it goes hand in hand with programs that will offer a new life to these newly released children.  If you were a child worker in a Third World country would you choose bread or freedom?

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4 Responses to Bread or Freedom? Can both be an option?

  1. solebearing says:

    Where did you find the readings for this post?

  2. sluwriter says:

    Solebearing: They are in the Bedford, Chapter 11 (see syllabus).

  3. I agree Divakarumi as well that simply making young children unable to work but not providing them with necessities will not make the situation any better. In fact, most would probably say that their working would be preferable to starvation. “Daretobepresent” says “[s/he] believe[s] that Congress can make a positive difference in child labor, but they must go beyond simply banning products made by means of child labor, because this will simply cause another problem for the people.” Yes, Congress is most certainly able to make a difference in child labor. However, let us think more carefully about using the phrase a “positive” difference. This is undoubtedly derived from the common American opinion that children should not be working and that child labor is wrong. We are not discussing America though – our children do not legally work until they are at least mid-teens and they are required to have an education. Americans forget though that when dealing with other countries the way the children there are raised is not with the same ideals as ours. And who are we to ignorantly assume that our ideals are better than theirs? Furthermore, simply because America is the only superpower does not mean that we rule the world. Congress’ focus needs to remain in the country their decisions most affect. American tax-dollars do not need to be sent overseas to educate an area whose children are not ours for the simple reason that it is not our business – it is the business of the country which the area is located. So although it goes against our natural American ideals to be purchasing products made my such small, innocent hands it seems as if not purchasing these products would mean that these children (and their families) may starve. A way to fix this while not inadvertently promoting child labor through monetary actions would be to pay for these children’s necessities and education but this is not our country so providing for these things are not our responsibility. Conclusively, to avoid making matters worse and gaining a responsibility which should not be ours the issue of child labor from the companies we buy from should probably be deemed one which we cannot do much about without making things worse and we should continue on with our original actions without guilt. This country is not America, our way of life does not need to be deemed as superior to anyone else’s, and we should not feel as if it is our responsibility to force our ideals of education, labor, or anything else upon an area which we do not govern.

  4. ardenscor says:

    Dear Daretobepresent:

    I agree about “the importance and gravity of understanding all of the consequences of making a decision.” I also agree that child labor itself (that is, children working because they must do so to avoid starvation) is not necessarily wrong. We must consider, however, what the bill actually prohibits: “the import of goods from factories where forced or indentured labor is used” (396). The bill, it seems, does not ban goods made in factories that use child labor; it only bans goods made by children enslaved in factories. As far as I can see, the bill does not violate the “sustainability of the family.” Under it, families can have their children work in factories if they must do so to survive. The ban is against factories that either enslave children directly or pay families to use their children. (This is the impression I get from reading the essay.)

    The essay states that the bill would leave “over a million” children unemployed—a relatively small percentage of factory workers. What would happen if they weren’t allowed to work? This depends on whether the factories can replace the positions held by the child laborers. If they can, that probably means there are unemployed adults starving—and these adults probably have children. Either way, people who’d otherwise be starving won’t be. And if the factories cannot replace the child laborers, they will have to employ the children without enslaving or indenturing them.

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