In view of the fact that on May 1 many countries of the world are set to observe the International Labour Day or the Workers’ Day (which is also popularly known as the May Day), I wish to write this article on Christian thought on child labour. Previously, I was able to write on this gravest of social evil of child labour.
Millions of poor children under the age of 12-15 or even lower than that age are compelled to work in mills, factories and elsewhere as a cheap labour forceto earn their bread. They are often forced to enter the hazardous profession or jobs. Christian teaching is up against child labour, which is a gross violation of human dignity and as such is scandalously unfair. The total issue of child labour is linked up with human greed on the part of the rich and exploiting class of people and on the other the abject poverty of the parents the concerned children come from. Child labour goes against Christian teaching of life and human dignity and of the option for the poor and the vulnerable people in human society as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church Catechism says, “Child labour, in its intolerable forms, constitutes a kind of violence that is less obvious than others but it is not for this reason any less terrible.” All human lives are sacred and that the dignity of human being is the foundation of a moral vision of society. The Christian Church has always and everywhere been against any form of exploitation of children.The issue of child labour is inherently an issue of Christian stewardship par excellence. The Hebrew Psalter wrote: “Children are a heritage from the LORD, children are reward from him” (127: 3). About a thousand years after that Jesus Christ, pointing to the negligent attitude of the people to the young children of his time, admonished his disciples thus: “Do not stop the children coming to me for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16). The context tells us that Jesus was displeased with his disciples, who had the traditional mind-set about children, among many things else, when he saw them hindering the children to come to him. We people fail in the God-ordained stewardship mandate with regard to children. In the Bible children are not an afterthought: they are a great priority in the eyes of God. They are the greatest gifts not only for parents, but also for mankind, from the Creator. They are both present and the future of human civilisation. In his Epistles to the churches the great apostle Paul exhorted the believers saying, “Do not exasperate (or irritate) the children” (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 4: 21). Children should be brought up with love and compassion to be full human beings with intelligence, wisdom, knowledge and grace to be of great value and importance to families and to societies at large.
In the Holy Scriptures of the Bible, the philosophy of an inherent paternity or for that matter a parenthood of the Almighty Creator and Sustainer God is taught to us all. We can see this in what Paul, the apostle wrote: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3: 14-15). Our attitude to our children in all generations ought to be grounded in this philosophy and theology of God’s parental and paternal love.
Perhaps there would be no end of examples of the maddening examples the exploitation and abuse of very minor boys and girls in almost all parts of the world. No one can cite too many examples of this hydra-headed monster of child labour. Just one I wish to mention here: thousands of diamond diggers in South Africa earn barely one dollar a day. It is estimated that at least one child in 10 today are subjected to child labour in the world. Children are primarily God’s greatest gifts to the world. Let their present and future be our greatest passion and vision. Dr Lovejoy aptly comments, “Christian Stewardship is the greatest religious principle before the world today. It is a revolutionary principle, a principle which would change our human relationships if it were universally grasped and applied.” The problem of child labour is such a gigantic one that it needs a total transformation of the mind-set of all people, all religious people, and all societies with authentic political will to effect any positive and lasting change. The church can only advocate for this at different levels. It is a question that faces the entire human society and civilisation since this encompasses the entire fabric of social and economic and cultural life of the people.
All people need to join hands to work for a society which love and cherish societies where all people will be able to live with human dignity and honour. We live in a fallen world where nothing in is any perfect state. But, we can reach out to the root cause or causes of poverty and exploitation of people. The Founder of Global March Against Child Labour, Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Prize a few years ago for his commendable work for the promotion of the rights of children once remarked: “If the world can reach out to Mars, why can’t we reach out to every single child, who is danger?”
I wish to quote below the Lebanese-American Christian writer from his ‘Poem On Children’:
Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
The writer is a Christian Theology teacher and a church leader