The Tectonics of Other Worlds: Making Space for Earth’s Most Exploited Citizens

Paper presented at ‘Revisiting Critical Courses @ Carleton’, a Symposium in Ottawa, Canada, June 20-22 2007 Ajay Parasram, June 2007

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Although generally accepted as mere appendages of their parents until reaching the age of majority, this paper contends that children are not static pawns in globalisation. Regardless of one’s ideological disposition, there is a general consensus that child labour is a bad and pursuing the abolition of child labour is thus, an inherent good. This research presents two competing schools of thought, defined as the “Economics School” and the “Rights-Based School.” Each of these schools provide compelling empirical and case-study examples to make their case on how child labour ought to be stopped. Though both schools speak on behalf of children, there is conspicuously little attention devoted to the voice and will of working children themselves. This paper examines the implications of the UN and the ILO while exploring the effect well-intentioned international law and policy has on the children it aims to help. It uses direct testimony from former child labourers as a vessel through which to balance the overwhelming rhetoric of the rights-based school.

The focus of “The Tectonics of Other Worlds” is not to identify the success or failure of either side of this debate. While literature is critiqued, the attempt is to demonstrate through story-telling, case studies, and empirical analysis that whether one stands left, right, or centre in their politics, poverty and suffering know no boundaries. This paper is an attempt to develop an open space, where people regardless of their ideological allegiances can begin to understand the position of the other.

Despite the best intentions of advocates on both sides, their inability to coordinate their policies manifests as competing tectonic plates beneath the feet of working children. As the ground gives way to this intellectual debate, it is the lives of the children we seek to better that are utterly damaged. Failure to include children as participants that exercise agency, who have values and wants, who view the world in another way from us, undermines the fact that they have fundamentally shaped the way we think about international production.

This paper challenges the reader to leave behind their pre-dispositions about economics and activism and to personalize the debate. Self reflection is employed by the author as a way of ensuring honesty. I do not presume to know how to better the lot of working children around the world, but I do contend that each child deserves respect that is cognisant of their broader family situation. My background is in Political Science and Economics and that will forever influence the world that I see. In engaging with the concept (s) of globalisation, we must re-educate ourselves though opening our minds to the reality of that the world we live in is comprised of a multiplicity of existences. Taken in this dynamic framework, globalisation is not a thing that has happened to children in India, Ghana, Vietnam or Canada. Children and the exploited workers of the world have in fact shaped the processes of globalisation and we are only now awakening to the idea that the fabric of our very existence is deeply interwoven with the other that has been, continues to be, and will forever remain present at the fringes of our own imaginations of the world.

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