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Child Slavery with Rageh Omaar (2007)

Rageh Omaar examines child slavery in such places as Cambodia, Ethiopia, India and Saudi Arabia.





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Rageh Omaar examines child slavery in such places as Cambodia, Ethiopia, India and Saudi Arabia. He begins by examining children in conditions that approach slavery, but don't quite meet the United Nation's definition. For instance, there's the ten-year-old boy who works 17 hours a day at two jobs; but his money goes to himself and his family. Meanwhile, there are 8 1/2 million other children who are quite literally slaves. We see a family sell their son to a fisherman, who has made promises of school to his older boys that he has not kept. We meet a girl who was sold into a brothel and kept in a cage when she wasn't serving clients. The zari industry in India has children working in its sweatshops, doing brutally tedious labor for 18 hours or more a day. We meet children who have endured such work. Omaar concludes that tradition and culture, that the fact that these things have gone on for years, are not excuses for allowing them to continue. Written by J. Spurlin

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26 March 2007 (UK)  »

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[first lines]
Rageh Omaar: [narrating] I've spent my working life traveling, reporting on some extraordinary events and places and people. But it's the everyday things I find myself thinking about. Logged in my memory are faces, the looks of people I've never actually met. And I'm thinking particularly of children: a boy I remember selling pomegranates on the streets of Kabul; a young girl who used to beg near my house in Johannesburg. I've always just accepted these children, the fact that they're there. And...
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A fascinating and depressing film that does not ignore complexity and effectively delivers on the subject
25 April 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The 200th anniversary of Parliament abolishing the slave trade act brought out lots of films looking back at the slave trade and lots of white people falling over themselves to yet again express regret, sorrow and, in some cases, chaining themselves together as a symbolic act of atonement (which personally I found more offensive and pointless than anything else). With this massive rush of films and so on I was very glad that the BBC produced this film that looks at slavery but not as a historic thing that we have fixed but as a terrible ongoing problem. With 8.5 million reportedly working in the world today and 1.2 million children trafficked to do so, it is not a problem that has gone away.

Hours of films etc looking back at a specific (and undeniably terrible) period of history almost seemed to ignore the fact it continues today, albeit in a different way. Rageh Omaar opens this film by saying that he has always seen children working or begging in the many places of the world he has travelled to with his work and he has always just accepted it. This is a good opening because it is true of many of us – we all see films, news reports or documentaries where children are in the background working in 3rd world countries and we just accept that this is what happens here – so it is good that this film starts with this baseline and challenges it.

It is not easy though because it is not presenting a slavery that we are used to being presented with where unwilling people are kidnapped by masters to work for masters (of course we generally do ignore the fact that this is not totally how it was because the complexity of evil is sometimes too much to handle without boiling it down to the actions of "bad" men). No, here we have a mix of actions, some where children are working happily for families, some where children are "sold" by families into work and potential opportunity, others trafficked to beg in gangs on the street for their masters or work in brothels. It is this mix that strengthens the film because it challenges preconceptions that children working is a terrible sin and crime by showing us a range of situations – OK none of them are "good" but there is a world of difference between the boy acting as a shepherd for his family and the 17 year old girl relating her experiences locked in a brothel and only fed when she "services" a client. Certainly it does not just try to boil things down to good and evil and it is honest enough to provide situations that contrast with our view of "good" and "evil". So we see the return of young Rahul from bonded labour, greeted by a mother wailing "why have you come back to add to my sorrows" contrasted with the hope and happiness and sense of hope for the future that comes with Mawulehawe being sold by his mother to a man who puts him to work as a fisherman.

The way the film builds the case and presents different levels of the problem most of which have economics at their core is good because it allows us to put a finger on the issue. Exploitation and the evil within humanity is more a side effect rather than a cause because it is money that drives it. This was the case with the most famous slavery and it is the same in these cases, with poverty being the driving factor behind these different forms of "slavery". Of course at the end of the day the film ends on a low as it was always going to. There is no easy answer, there is no product you can buy or not buy to solve it, nobody to write to etc and this is hard to end the film with a lot of hope. Of course this is how it should be and it is a fitting conclusion to a film that is challenging, effective and depressing.

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