“I Am Seven Years Old”
Hello. My name is Amelia, and I live on an island in the Caribbean. I am seven years old. Some time ago my poor parents handed me over to a rich family living in the city.
Today, like every day, I got up at five o’clock in the morning. I fetched water from a nearby well. It was very difficult to balance the heavy jug on my head, but I made it—otherwise, I would have been beaten badly. Then I prepared breakfast and served it to the family. I was a little late in serving breakfast, so the master beat me with a leather strap.
Afterward, I walked the family’s five-year-old son to school. Next, I helped prepare and serve the family’s lunch. Between mealtimes, I had to buy food in the market, run errands, tend the charcoal fire, sweep the yard, wash clothes and dishes, and clean the kitchen. I also washed my lady’s feet. Today she was very upset about something, and she slapped me in anger. I hope that tomorrow she feels better.
I was given leftovers to eat—at least they were better than the cornmeal I ate yesterday. My clothes are ragged, and I have no shoes. My owners have never allowed me to bathe in the water I bring to the family. Last night I slept outside; sometimes they let me sleep inside on the floor. Too bad I could not write this myself. I am not allowed to go to school.
Have a nice day. Amelia.
ALTHOUGH her real name is not Amelia, her plight is real.a Amelia is just one of the millions of children who must work—often under the worst conditions. Child labor is a major challenge of our times. It is a complex issue with no simple solutions. Massive in scale, corrosive to society, and fatal in its consequences, it is cruel to children and insulting to human dignity.
How extensive is child labor? What are the roots of this problem, and in what shapes does it come? Will there ever be a time when children—the most tender and vulnerable segment of the human family—no longer are subjected to a life of misery and exploitation?
a Her case was reported in The State of the World’s Children 1997.