A Transatlantic Dialogue

 

When you look out at the ocean, do you ever wonder who is on the other side?  I do! So when we were at the beach in South Carolina, I felt compelled to look it up.  Turns out that Morocco is directly across the Atlantic from South Carolina.  I had recently been to Morocco, so I could vividly picture what was on the ocean as I walked along the shore.

For this week’s Photo Challenge: Dialogue, we are asked to bring  two photos into dialogue.  The first photo, taken on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, looks directly east across the Atlantic Ocean towards Morocco.  The second photo, taken in Rabat, looks directly west towards South Carolina.  The photographic dialogue even reflects the time difference; the first photo was taken in the early morning, which is afternoon in Morocco.

Sometimes we need a reminder that our beautiful world is really not so big after all. And that often our connections can be greater than our differences.

 

What to find out what’s on the other side of the ocean from where you are?  The Washington Post published a quick reference – check it out here!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

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On this particular morning in Casablanca, I arrived early for a meeting with a women’s rights association.  This pigeon, basking in the sun high above the bustle of Casablanca,  kept me company while I waited for the others to arrive.   When the meeting ended, I looked  to see if my friend was still on the ledge outside the window.  The pigeon had moved on.  And so must I.

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Object.   To see other responses, click here. 

Window on the World: Rabat, Morocco

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A window in a wall inside the Kasbah in Rabat, Morocco.

More photos in this Window on the World series:

Sankhu village in Nepal

Charleston, South Carolina 

Gvarv in Telemark, Norway

For more interpretations on the Weekly Photo Challenge theme: Window, click here.

End Child Labor: An Estimated 215 Million Children Still Need Alternatives

September:  Interviewing students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal
September: Interviewing students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal

What do you say to a child who has experienced child labor? I found myself in this position in Nepal recently. I was interviewing a teenager, who I will call Shree.  He described how as a little boy he had worked with his parents in the brick factories of Bhaktapur, rising at 1 a.m. to carry mud and mix bricks. Luckily, when he was 7, a school opened in in his community to provide Shree and other children at risk of child labor a free education, as well as the chance for a childhood and a promising future.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) was launched in 1999 by The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization based in the Twin Cities, to provide an alternative to child labor. Now, 14 years later, about 350 students are enrolled in grades pre-K through 10 at the school, which is located about an hour from the capital city of Kathmandu. Many of the students are from families that are low-caste, indigenous, or other marginalized groups.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 215 million girls and boys around the world are swept up into child labor, some into human trafficking. Children, like Shree, are engaged in work that not only deprives them of their rights and an adequate education, but also is hazardous to their health and commits them to a life of poverty.

The ILO launched the first World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to highlight the plight of these children. Observed on June 12, the day works as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labor.

When in his final year at Sankhu-Palubari, Shree, one of the best students in the area, passed his 10th grade School Leaving Certificate exam with distinction. When I met him recently, he was in his his last year of high school.  He likes to write poetry and listen to music. In the afternoons, he volunteers at SPCS, the school that changed the course of his life and where his two younger brothers now study instead of working in the brick factories. He helps the teachers in the classroom and encourages the students to study hard. When they get discouraged, he tells them, “Choose the road that makes your future very bright.”

The bright future Shree envisions for himself is to continue his education after high school and become a math and science teacher to work in rural Nepal with children who, without a school and teachers, would most likely work instead of learn.

So, what do you say to the young girl beading blouses with tiny fingers in a suffocating textile sweatshop in India? What do you say to the little boy in Gambia working in an auto-repair garage or selling items on the street? What do you say to the young girl who is working as a petite bonne (domestic servant) in Morocco?  To the child  sold into human trafficking?

Through his deeds and goals, Shree is telling these children that he is working to break this cycle of abuse.

For you and me, I say that we speak with a loud, unified voice today and proclaim, “We are committed to protecting you, the world’s children, by ending child labor.”

Then, we put our words into action.

Originally published in MinnPost on June 12, 2013.

Petites Bonnes: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco

Today, on the World Day Against Child Labour, I am sharing this post that I wrote for World Moms Blog. Moroccan flag

While millions of tourists visit Morocco every year, very few are aware of  a hidden human rights abuse that is occurring behind closed doors in Morocco’s cities.   Morocco has one of the worst child domestic labor problems in North Africa.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that between 66,000 and 88,000 children between the ages of 7 and 15 – 70% of whom are under age 12 –  are working as domestic servants in Morocco.

These children work long hours for little pay and often suffer physical and other forms of abuse. Because domestic work is “women’s work” in Morocco, the virtually all of these child domestic workers are girls. In Morocco (a country with a French colonial history), these child domestic workers are called petites bonnes or “little maids”.

I had the opportunity to learn more about the petites bonnes issue during a recent trip to Morocco.  The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs describes the problem like this:

Young girls are sent to work as live-in domestic servants, often before they reach age 10. Parents sell their daughters or receive payment of wages in exchange for their daughters’ service. These petites bonnes (little maids) often face conditions of involuntary servitude, including long hours without breaks; physical, verbal and sexual abuse; withheld wages and even restrictions on their movement. Frequently, they are sent from rural villages to more urban areas, and find it difficult to make their way home. Most petites bonnes are denied an education, and illiteracy rates are high among this population.

The Difficult Life of a Petite Bonne

The situation of petites bonnes in Morocco results from a combination of poverty, gender inequality and lack of access to education.   Girls – some as young as my own  8-year-old daughter – are sent to work as petites bonnes to generate income to support their families.  They come from poor rural areas to work in cities such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Tangiers, Agadir, and Fes.  Intermediaries generally broker the arrangement, receiving a fee from the employer. Petites bonnes interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that their employers frequently beat and verbally abused them, denied them the chance to go to school, and sometimes even refused to provide them with adequate food and sleeping facilities.

In a strange city, separated from their families and often speaking a Berber language instead of the Arabic spoken by a majority of Moroccans, many petites bonnes are extremely isolated and vulnerable.  The isolation, along with the privacy of the homes, increases the chance of sexual abuse by male members of their employers’ household.  In fact, several studies have found that many unwed young mothers in shelters in Morocco were petites bonnes when they became pregnant.

The difficult life of a petite bonne sometimes ends tragically.  The widely reported story of little Khadija, an 11-year-old petite bonne who was beaten to death by her employer in July 2011, raised calls for the government to take action on the issue.  In January 2013, a 17 year old petite bonne in Casablanca attempted suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of her employers’ home.  Amateur video of the suicide attempt circulated on the internet shocked Moroccans.  Most recently, on March 24, 2013, a young domestic worker was taken to the hospital in Agadir with third degree burns on multiple parts of her body.  Only 14 years old, she died from the injuries allegedly inflicted by her employers, prompting a UN representative in Morocco to decry child domestic labor by girls as “one of the worst forms of child exploitation” and call on the government to take action.  Yet thousands of petites bonnes in Morocco continue to suffer in silence.

Gaps in Legal Protection

According to NGOs working to help petites bonnes in Morocco, part of the problem relates to gaps in and difficulties with implementation of Moroccan laws.   While Moroccan law prohibits employment of children under the age of 15,  Morocco’s Labor Code does not apply to domestic work.  Therefore, the Labor Codes’ protections for workers regarding hours worked (44 hours per week) and pay (2,333 dirhams or approximately $261 per month) do not apply. Human Rights Watch has documented that petites bonnes work long hours, often seven days a week.  They earn an average of 545 dirhams (approximately $61) per month, but some earn as little as 100 dirhans (approximately $11).

In addition, Morocco ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1993 and the ILO Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.  Both international treaties prohibit economic exploitation and employment of children in work that is likely to be hazardous, interfere with their education, or harm their health, safety or development.  Unfortunately, neither have been implemented in a way that provides adequate protection to the petites bonnes.

Some Progress

There is some indication that things are starting to change in Morocco.  The government and international human rights organizations report that the number of girls working as petites bonnes is declining.  This is due in part to the fact that public awareness about the problems faced by petites bonnes has been raised because of increased media attention to the issue and public education campaigns undertaken by the Moroccan government, NGOs, and United Nations agencies.   The Moroccan government has also taken steps to increase school enrollment and this has helped reduce the number of children engaged in child labor.

Yet still more needs to be done.  Since 2006, the government has been working on a draft law on domestic work that would for the first time establish a legal framework to better protect petites bonnes, secure rights such as a weekly day of rest and annual leave, and impose sanctions on employers.  The Moroccan government has said that the draft Law on Domestic Workers is one of its priorities, but the bill has not yet been considered and passed by Parliament.

Take Action on June 12 – World Day Against Child Labour!

The problem of child domestic workers is not unique to Morocco.  In fact, there are an estimated 15.5 million child domestic workers worldwide.  The widespread use of children as domestic servants is one of the most hidden forms of child labor.  The exploitation of children, particularly girl domestic workers like petites bonnes, is a serious violation of children’s rights.  It perpetuates inequality and inter-generational poverty, and deprives girls of their right to education, health, participation and protection.  It also prevents children from acquiring the life skills and education necessary to improve their future.

To draw attention to the issue of child labor, the United Nations has recognized June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labour.  In 2013, the focus is on child domestic workers like the petites bonnes of Morocco.  On the 2013 World Day Against Child Labour, the international community is calling for legislative and policy reforms to ensure the elimination of child labor in domestic work and the provision of decent work conditions and appropriate protection to young workers in domestic work who have reached the legal working age.  In Morocco, the government should:

•    Strictly enforce the minimum age of 15 for all employment (including domestic work) and ensure that all children (particularly girls) enjoy the right to free and compulsory basic education;

•    Adopt a domestic worker law that ensures compliance with the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers

•    Create an effective system for identifying, removing and rehabilitating child domestic workers from illegal or abusive employment; and

•    Criminally prosecute individuals responsible for violence or other criminal offenses against child domestic workers.

In addition, the World Day Against Child Labour provides the opportunity for all of us to take action to build the worldwide movement against child labor.

Take Action to end child labor.  Learn what you can do to inform yourself and raise awareness in your community.  The ILO’s SCREAM (Supporting Children’s Rights through Education, the Arts and Media) programme has factsheets, presentations, postcards, poems, and more. The SCREAM education pack is available in multiple languages.

Join the 12to12 to End Child Labour community.  Learn more about the issue and join the 12to12 Community Portal, which provides a common platform for experience and knowledge sharing on research, activities and events  related to the World Day Against Child Labour.

Find out what kids and teens can do to help.  The ILO’s Youth in Action against Child Labour campaign has ideas, information,  videos and other resources to help young people take action to end child labor.

Make a pinwheel with your kids.  The pinwheel has become the symbol of the international fight against child labor.  The pinwheel campaign to raise awareness about child labor began in Brazil in 2004. The five blades of the pinwheel represent the different continents of the world and the wind that makes the pinwheel spin is the will to act and to pass on the message until all countries take adequate measures to end child labor. Download a kit to make a pinwheel to keep the movement going!

 

In Morocco

View of the Kasbah in Rabat
View of the Kasbah in Rabat
January 2013

There is no guidebook to Morocco, and no way of knowing, once one has left Tangier behind, where the long trail over the Rif is going to land one, in the sense understood by any one accustomed to European certainties.  The air of the unforeseen blows on one from the roadless passes of the Atlas.

I recently visited the Kingdom of Morocco for the first time.  Looking for reading material before my trip, I discovered a book about Morocco by Edith Wharton.  This came as a deep surprise to me, a longtime Wharton fan.  I thought that I had read every Edith Wharton publication in print, from her ghost stories right down to her interior design book (I wrote a paper on that one in college).  I knew, of course, that she had written some travel books; I had even read some of them.  But until I saw it listed as a free title on Kindle, I had never heard of In Morocco.  

Published in 1920 (the same year as Age of Innocence), In Morocco is widely considered the first travel guide to Morocco.  (Wharton certainly thought so, as she states, “Having begun my book with the statement that Morocco still lacks a guide-book, I should have wished to take a first step toward remedying that deficiency.”)

I’ve always admired Wharton’s  highly descriptive style, which lends itself exceptionally well to travel writing.  In Morocco is the account of Wharton’s motor trip across Morocco in the fall of 1917, at the tail end of the First World War.  Much of Morocco had become a French protectorate in 1912, so she made the trip at the invitation of the French Resident-General Hubert Lyautey.  It is no secret that Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism (she described herself as a “rabid imperialist”) and this comes across strongly in In Morocco.  (Unless you want read a love letter to colonialism, skip the chapter on Gen. Lyautey’s Work In Morocco.)  Equally hard to take is her paternalistic attitude towards and use of  racist terminology to describe Moroccans and their culture.

In spite of this, I enjoyed the historical perspective provided by In Morocco. More than anything,  In Morocco is a series of sketches of a place where past and present are intermingled, at a moment when the country was on the verge of change.  Wharton was very cognisant of the fact that post-war tourism would alter Morocco forever.

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Morocco is too curious, too beautiful, too rich in landscape and architecture, and above all too much of a novelty, not to attract one of the main streams of spring travel as soon as Mediterranean passenger traffic is resumed.

Visiting Morocco nearly 100 years after Wharton, I found it interesting to read her admiring documentation of this specific moment in time, which she has preserved in prose as solidly as if in amber.

To see Morocco during the war was therefore to see it in the last phase of its curiously abrupt transition from remoteness and danger to security and accessibility …

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Yet I also found the Morocco of 2013 to be a place where the boundaries between past and present are still slightly blurred.  Visiting many of the same places that Wharton had visited nearly a century before, I discovered that her descriptions were, in many cases, still brilliantly apt. The following photographs were taken by me but the words were written by Edith Wharton.

Tangier

View of the Medina in Tangier
View of the Medina in Tangier

This feeling of adventure is heightened by the contrast between Tangier – cosmopolitan, frowsy, familiar Tangier, that every tourist has visited for the last forty years – and the vast unknown just beyond.

 Rabat

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The European town of Rabat, a rapidly developing community, lies almost wholly outside of the walls of the old Arab city.  The latter, founded in the twelfth century by the great Almohad conqueror of Spain, Yacoub-el-Mansour, stretches its mighty walls to the river’s mouth.  Thence they climb the cliff to enclose the Kasbah of the Oudayas…. Great crenallated ramparts, cyclopean, superb, follow the curve of the cliff.

Kasbah of Rabat
Kasbah of Rabat

Salé the white and Rabat the red frown at each other over the foaming bar of the Bou-Regreg, each walled, terraced, minareted, and presenting a singularly complete picture of the two types of Moroccan town, the snowy and the tawny.  To the gates of both, the Atlantic breakers roll in with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky.

Kasbah in Rabat
View of Salé from the Kasbah in Rabat

It is one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not wholly dispel it – the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly clouded by milk.

Seawalk in Rabat
Seawalk in Rabat

Kasbah of the Oudayas

Garden of the Oudayas

Inside the gate of the Kasbah one comes on more waste land and on other walls – for all Moroccan towns are enclosed in circuit within circuit of battlemented masonry.  Then, unexpectedly, a gate in one of the inner walls lets one into a tiled court enclosed in a traciered clositer and overlooking an orange-grove that rises out of a carpet of roses.  This peaceful and well-ordered place is the interior of the Medersa (the college) of the Oudayas.

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The Tower of Hassan

Tower of Hassan, Rabat
Tower of Hassan, Rabat

The “Tower of Hassan,” as the Sultan’s tower is called, rised from the plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it stand on the edge of a cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land and sea.  It is one of the world’s great monuments, so sufficient in strength and majesty that until one its fellow, the Koutoubya of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried openings to a triumphant conclusion.

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Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.

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The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory of the battle of Alarcos, “The Camp of Victory” (Ribat-el-Path), and the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.

Casablanca

On the west coast, especially, where the Mediterranean peoples, from the Phenicians to the Portuguese, have had trading-ports for over two thousand years, the harm done to such seaboard towns as Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca is hard to estimate.  The modern European colonist apparently imagined that to plant his warehouses, cafes, and cinema-palaces within the walls which for so long had fiercely excluded him was the most impressive way of proclaiming his domination.

Casablanca
Casablanca

These are just a few of the words and images I found on my recent trip to Morocco.  I was in Morocco for work, however, so my own version of In Morocco will not be a guidebook or travelogue. My version of In Morocco will be a series of sketches, too, but it will the stories of people who are working to improve human rights in their country.  I am not a writer with Edith Wharton’s powers of description, but these are stories that can and should be told.

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