My husband (you know, my personal photographer, that husband) and I watched, recently, a TV program about child labour, specifically in India.
Although I knew intellectually, I can now clearly see that it is still a horror in the 21st century, as the feature program showed us the people who are now dedicating their work to try to end child labour there in the land of Mother Teresa.
Although she was undoubtedly the world's most popular and successful nun, conflicting online sites have Mother Teresa born in Skopje, Macedonia, and also in Gotarrendura, Spain. Delving further into Wikipedia's varying opinions on her birth, I find she was most likely to have been born in Skopje, and unlikely to have been born in Spain. Some years later, as a young woman, she received her education in Rathfarnham, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland.
There is no uncertainty, however, about Mother Teresa's dedication as a Roman Catholic nun to the people of India, where she tried to relieve the grim poverty and abhorrent death rate. She was, as a result, among some of the first women to have argued against child labour.
She did much, probably more than any one other individual, and although she won a Nobel Prize for her exemplary efforts, and was beatified a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, even Mother Teresa couldn't eliminate horrors such as child labour.
Nor could rabblerousers, missionaries, and lawmakers who followed—but not for lack of trying.
Most of us in this 21st century abhor the thought of child labour, and can often be heard opining "something should be done about that" but, here in North America, we are pretty much helpless to do so. Child labour (we hope) is no longer listed among the many deficiencies of our society, but is an ever-present fact in countries as diverse as India and China. Therefore, we wring our hands but can do little or nothing.
However, believe it or not, I digress. All of the above came to me as a result of that TV show, and of revisiting one of my all-time favourite poems: The Ballad of East and West, by Rudyard Kipling, and, indeed, the part of that poem I have always loved best. No, not the refrain, which has been quoted for various conflicting reasons, probably ever since it was first published in 1889, and has caused many a difference of opinion in the meantime.
No, this essay of mine is, would you believe, about child labour, and how I came to think of it...via that TV show, and because I had just been reading that poem. Sending offspring into servitude has long been a necessity, but none so seemingly glorious as Kipling has it here, when Kamal, the border thief, reaches a truce with the Colonel's son:
"...if thou thinkest the price be high, in steer and gear and stack,
Give me my father's mare again, and I'll fight my own way back."
Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
"No talk shall be of dogs," said he, "when wolf and grey wolf meet.
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?"
Lightly answered the Colonel's son: "I hold by the blood of my clan,
Take up the mare for my father's gift—by God, she has carried a man."
The red mare ran to the Colonel's son, and nuzzled against his breast;
"We be two strong men," said Kamal then, but she loveth the younger best:
So she shall go with a lifter's dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
My 'broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain."
The colonel's son a pistol drew, and held it muzzle-end,
"Ye have taken the one from a foe," said he. "Will ye take the mate from a friend?"
"A gift for a gift," said Kamal straight, "a limb for the risk of a limb,
Thy father hath sent his son to me, I'll send my son to him!"
With that, he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain crest:
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest
"Now this is thy master," Kamal said, "that leads a troop of the guides,
And ye must ride at his left side as shield on shoulder rides.
Til death or I cut loose the tie, at camp and board and bed,
Thy life is his—thy fate it is, to guard him with thy head.
So, thou must eat the White Queen's meat, and all her foes are thine,
And thou must harry thy father's hold for the peace of the border-line.
And thou must make a trooper tough, and hack thy way to power,
Belike they will raise thee to Ressaldar when I am hanged in Peshawur."
There's more, and if you are Kipling fan, you'll know, but my point is "I'll send my son to him...now this is thy master...ye must ride at his left side as shield on shoulder rides..."
While this is hardly child labour, it shows how readily people in the 19th century bartered their offspring. "I'll send my son to him"...sons were items of trade, or were rewards, as in this case. No thought was ever given to the feelings of the mothers and sisters of the young man. He was sent from one life into another as a gift. The word "dower" was even used.
But when I first heard of him, that nameless son of a border thief, at a young and impressionable age, I fell in love..."he trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest." Sigh. There's something to be said for the 19th century after all.