Child labor is a problem Morocco has failed to confront. It is one of many problems that I recognize exists in this country for which I have so much affection. Though there are signs that the phenomenon is being acknowledged, it appears that not enough official effort is being made to correct the abuses. In the last thirty years, there have been substantial reductions in the amount of child labor that is visible, but there are still far too many children whose destiny is decided early in life by being forced into the labor market.
In the 1970’s when I served here in the military, one could see the child workers on display at the artisinales, engaged in the traditional crafts such as making rugs by hand. In the late eighties when we lived in Fes, while jogging early in the morning, I would often see trucks dropping off 25 or 30 little girls, ages 8 to 15 approximately, to perform that same kind of labor. However, by that time, tourists were no longer allowed to see them. To the country’s credit, nowadays in government controlled establishments, the practice of using laborers that young is no longer followed.
However, in the private sector, a large number of children still spend their formative years as essentially indentured servants. Three times last week, while having breakfast in a sidewalk cafe, I saw the same little girl pass by on her way to the corner grocery store and return with milk and bread for her “family.” She is about 10 years old, weighs about 50 pounds, and is easily identified as a “hedema” or maid by her attire. Part of her dress is a scarf around her head, folded so that one corner covers her neck and the other two corners pulled up over her head and tied with a knot on top. Anyone seeing her immediately knows her station in life, and sadly, what her lot most likely will be for the rest of her life.
The fact that domestic work is done is not the issue. Most likely this girl’s parents struck a deal with the family for whom this girl works. For some initial payment, they agree that the daughter will live the family and be provided room and board in exchange for her domestic labor. She is at their beck and call 24 hours a day. Even if the young maids are not physically abused, which often happens, their future is very bleak. Almost none of the girls obtain an education, and I suppose at some point in their life, psychologically, come to realize that what they are has been determined by someone else. That’s the most depressing thing to me.
I read an opinion column last week precipitated by the success of Jean Le Pen in the first French presidential primary in late April. Le Pen is the leader of the extreme right party who has referred to the Holocaust as a “detail of history.” The writer suggested Le Pen made the run-off because France had never dealt with its nascent anti-Semitism that surfaced so dramatically in World War II, and that until the country did so, it would continue to cause them problems. I feel the same way about child labor here. It is a national disgrace that will continue to plague Morocco until the practice is eradicated.