Thursday, February 17, 2011

The family business

There have been two stories lately about famous people who put their children on the stage.

A few weeks ago a US writer tweeted that Will Smith and Jada were ‘pimping’ and ‘exploiting’ their kids. Both their children, Jaden and Willow, are working in the entertainment industry. This week there is the story from Billy Ray Cyrus that the tv show, Hannah Montana, ruined his family, as it led to his divorce and his daughter, Miley, now 18, is out of control. He regrets being involved with the show and regrets trying to be a friend to his daughter, rather than a parent.

Here is a quote from Will Smith, in 2007.

"And Willow is Paris Hilton, Smith says, laughing. "Willow wants to be on TV."

Smith says his daughter's strong personality contributes to her impressive work ethic. "You don't work with Willow," Smith says, teasing. "You work for Willow."

Here is a quote from Willow, who was born in 2000.

“There is a tutor most of the time, but usually I am working so I never get to do the lessons. The worst thing about maths is all the kids are ahead of me because they go to school.”


There have been lots of posts on various forums about the whole thing. Are the children truly talented? Are they well balanced good people? But there are two aspects I haven’t seen mentioned.

One. The family business. You go with what you know. Ever see Italian or Greek children working at the green grocery? Chinese children working at a restaurant? The father who starts a successful business passing it onto his sons? The classical musician parents who want their children to learn classical music? The family business. Nothing so strange about that.

Two. Some children really do have to work in awful jobs to survive. Begging. Sex work. Factories. This is from the UNICEF site:

An estimated 158 million children aged 5-14 are engaged in child labour - one in six children in the world. Millions of children are engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, labouring behind the walls of workshops, hidden from view in plantations.

* In Sub-Saharan Africa around one in three children are engaged in child labour, representing 69 million children.
* In South Asia, another 44 million are engaged in child labour.
* The latest national estimates for this indicator are reported in Table 9 (Child Protection) of UNICEF's annual publication The State of the World's Children.

Children living in the poorest households and in rural areas are most likely to be engaged in child labour. Those burdened with household chores are overwhelmingly girls. Millions of girls who work as domestic servants are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Labour often interferes with children’s education. Ensuring that all children go to school and that their education is of good quality are keys to preventing child labour.

So, what should the story be here? Do we give our attention to a few wealthy, privileged and perhaps OK children, or do we pay attention to the 158 million children who are not having childhoods and are likely to be at serious risk? For millions of children becoming beggars or sex workers is going into the family business.

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