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banner Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 15:23 GMT
Ask Sue Lloyd Roberts
Human Rights correspondent Sue LLoyd-Roberts has spent years reporting on child workers across the world. She answers your questions on the issues raised by "Whose life is it anyway?" To watch full coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Highlights of the interview:


Newshost:

Sue Peaker, Shetland, UK: What has happened to the children since the film was made and Don Jordan asks specifically: What has happened to the tea-selling venture featured in the film?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

The children are carrying on working and grabbing the few hours of schooling that they manage to grab. There's the girls in Bangalore and the boys in Delhi.

As far as the tea venture is going, it's going well. But again the children are always thwarted by adult authority, in particular the police, who think they should not work - there are no excuses for the children to work and hassle adults for custom. Their worry at the moment is that someone is going to grab their kettle, which is, if you like, their capital investment in the venture. So the Butterflies organisation, which is trying to help the boys, is currently trying to appeal to the city authorities to give the boys a licence to sell teas to the rickshaw drivers and if that happens then many more boys in the collective may also set up their Chi Express.


Newshost:

Louisa Gardiner, UK: How far do you think the parents are to blame for the exploitation of the children? Shouldn't the parents realise their children won't flourish without an education?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

As I say in the film, it really is the parents' fault in many ways. But that is a harsh judgement because it's the parents' fault simply because often the parents cannot find work or they can't find work sufficient to feed a number of mouths. Young Suraj one of the rag pickers we profile in Delhi, says he left home simply because there were too many mouths to feed.

Now it is not entirely the parents' fault - we can't go here into the problem of globalisation and the economy of the developing world. But what I found time and time again, while looking at this subject over 10 years, is that factory owners will deliberately set out to employ children and not their parents. Why? Because children are cheaper, they're more compliant, they're easier to bully. In garment factories and in carpet factories, employers talk quite openly about the little fingers that children have which make it easier for them to stitch carpets. So there is a deliberate choice among many employers to employ the children and not the parents and this is a problem they're up against.


Newshost:

Matthew Duncan, Scotland: Given what you've seen, do you think children have a right to work, even though that conflicts with an idea of children as innocent and vulnerable, and requiring the protection of adults?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

I realise that we are upsetting a lot of people by using that very terminology - a child's right to work. But what I've discovered again over a period of years of looking into this is that we all talk about eliminating child labour. I don't think there's a year that goes by without the United Nations making a declaration to that end. But what is the reality today? We still have 250 million working children in the world and, if you like, the children themselves are the pragmatists - they are the realists. They are the ones saying - get real, no one is going to get rid of child labour overnight, there's no magic wand formula. So given that many of us have to work, because of the circumstances of our parents, because we've had to run away from abusive parents, we're on the streets alone - help us, help us educate ourselves so we can escape the spiral of poverty and help us have decent child workers' rights.

[CLIP]


Newshost:

In the 1990s you made two films about child labour in Pakistan. What did you discover then and how did that affect your views on the rights and wrongs of child labour?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

In many ways it was through filming in Pakistan and India in the 1990s that I came to want to make this film "Whose life is it anyway?" The reason being is that I took the conventional method of reporting child labour in 1996 and I went into Pakistan and discovered children stitching footballs. It was very gratifying as a journalist - there were banner headlines in the press and a big splash on the 9 o'clock news and we succeeded in embarrassing some of the biggest names in the sports equipment industry - Nike and Reebok, I seem to remember, who had to apologise and say they're going to look into the problem.

Two years later I returned to the football stitching capital of Pakistan called Sialkot and the sight gladdened the heart - there were rows and rows of adults stitching footballs and not a child in sight. But then one wonders - well where are the children? There certainly weren't any schools - only one school had been set up by Reebok and I discovered the children were being employed in much worse industries. I visited this foul tannery - children were treating the hides of animals using quite dangerous chemicals in appalling working conditions. You would of caught a glimpse on the film of another industry they were working in - that was making medical equipment, scissors and steel equipment etc with a flare flaring out all over the place - without any eye protection at all - tiny children aged six - which showed that really one had accomplished nothing.

One had liberated children from high profile names which embarrassed the Western consumer but meanwhile these children were going back and working in the indigenous industries where there were no high profile names - the West isn't interested in these kinds of industries and that's where they will stay. So the problem is more fundamental than just these headline-grabbing campaigns which myself and other journalists have been guilty of in the past.


Newshost:

One e-mail asks whether you think your film should have gone a bit further in showing the difference between children exploited as bonded labour and those forced by circumstances to live on the streets and take on street work as a way of supporting themselves?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

Yes, we do allude to bonded labour in the film and I would agree with the person who wrote in, that one could make another entire film on bonded labour. It is absolutely tragic that hundreds of thousands of children are bonded, almost as soon as they can walk, into labour because their parents might have taken a loan from a factory owner even before they were born and the only way the parents can pay that loan back is to employ the child. Sometimes that bond is carried on from generation to generation. But I would only say that I am very aware of that happening - I have made a film about that in the past and whenever you make a film during the cutting room process, something has to go. So we alluded to bonded labour - the fact that we didn't go into further doesn't mean that I don't realise how appalling it is but we just couldn't dwell on everything at length.


Newshost:

Mandy Wilson, UK: What's your answer to those who say forming child unions helps to legitimise child labour rather than preventing it?

Presumably this is one of the reasons why the Butterflies charity had some of its funding cut?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

That is right and this is the allegation made in the film by one of the local NGOs - the campaign against child servitude. Yes of course it's a point but there again we are looking at this subject from the perspective of children who would say they have no alternative but to work. They've been kicked out of their homes, or maybe they are orphans - we found a number of orphans in Delhi and in order to survive they have to work to buy food and the clothes on their backs.

Now what are these children going to do - be exploited? They found by getting together they are empowered and they can improve their working conditions. As a girl showed us in Bangalore, not just their working conditions, but they started assuming the role of a local government - they started demanding better schools and water and so on. So if a child has to work, as appalling as that is to us Westerners, then they would argue at least let's get together and make things better.

[CLIP]


Newshost:

Mr Jassi, England asks: Why does the Indian Government choose not to recognise the problem?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

This I simply can't answer except to say that the next day we went to the Minister for Social Justice in Delhi and told him what we had witnessed - we were all still very angry about what we had seen and we begged him to do something and he promised he would. Now several weeks later we understand that nothing has been done. That shelter which was ideal - it was large, it was in the centre of town - is still denied to the children although no development has yet taken place on the site of the shelter. The children have since found a smaller one, not so convenient, not as much room and the government hasn't helped them.

The government, like many governments in the developing world, just wish the problem of street children would disappear. It's not on their agenda, they don't win any Brownie points for helping the street children of the cities and I really got the impression that it simply wasn't very important.


Newshost:

Rasila Shah: What pressure can external governments put on the Indian Government to stop the bureaucracy that seems to come in the children's way?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

I wonder whether approaching the Indian Government is the right approach. My advice would be to go to those aid agencies who are working on the ground in India. If you go into our website www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent, you will see that we have put the two addresses of the agencies who are working with children and trying to help them better their social and working conditions.


Newshost:

Dr Matthew, a British Asian from Kerala, India: How far do you think India's problems are due to the involvement of the British Raj in the 19th century? Do you think the developed world should take more moral responsibility and do more to improve conditions in the developing world?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

That's a big one. Did the British actively impede India's development or help India? There are a lot of books written about this and I am no specialist on the subject. You hear people say in India - well the British made the trains run on time and built some magnificent building but others would argue that if the British hadn't been there then India might have developed faster and more successfully.

I for one, as a granddaughter of the Raj, if you like, do feel that Britain does owe a huge responsibility for it's involvement in the sub-continent. Perhaps that's why as a journalist I am so interested in filming and reporting on that subject. But I think that is quite common in Britain that we do feel these tremendous ties of allegiance and the British aid agencies are active in India and I think a lot of them do very good work. Save the Children, for example, do take a very pragmatic approach to working children and they were one of the agencies that have been quite revolutionary in their approach to helping working children.


Newshost:

Dominique Thompson, UK: When will we, the affluent West, stop patronising the poorest and telling them what's good for them? What can we do to empower the poorest to build their own future?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

I hope that's not an accusation against us because we were trying to listen to some of the poorest and most socially excluded in the world.

To answer the second part of the question: if we are talking about empowering children, this is exactly what these collectives, unions and organisations are trying to do - to try and give these children a voice and to draw attention to their problems. Hence the Butterflies organisation helping the boys in Delhi publish their newspaper. So again I would refer anyone who has written in to the organisations in Delhi who are actively helping some of the poorest and most socially excluded people in the world who were the people we featured on our film last night.


Newshost:

J Clark, UK: Do you think the fact that you were filming the children might have influenced the closing of their hostel, or their bad relationship with local police?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

I would say most definitely not in that we were out filming with the children when the hostel was closed - although we had been in the hostel earlier I don't think that the authorities were aware that we were filming with the children.


Newshost:

So they didn't know you were around the hostel?


Sue Lloyd-Roberts:

No. The fact that we went and saw the minister subsequently and banged the table and said that you've got to do something. Frankly I thought in my arrogance as a BBC correspondent, that the Indian government minister in question would want to be saved the embarrassment in such an appalling episode and he would have done something. But he chose not to do anything, which shows that the fact we were there, recording this appalling incident, really didn't have much impact on the authorities concerned.

As far as the police were concerned, I think we probably had a benign effect on the police because we were filming them trying to tear down the wall posters, which the boys were trying to put up. We were there and filming and I was actively engaging the police officer and saying why are you doing this. He then allowed the children to post up the wall posters. I dread to think what would have happened if perhaps we had not been there. The children had been beaten up in the past - indeed young Suraj, who is featured in our film, was beaten up by the police only a week ago. So sometimes the cameras can help. But certainly I don't think that the hostel was closed either because of us or certainly hasn't been reopened because of us.


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