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Child Labor and Abuse Aren't the Same Thing

The article "A Tough Buy: Child-Woven Carpets" (Oct. 30), about child labor in Indian rug making, is well-balanced and illuminating about just how provincial Western views of the third world can be.

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Liberals all over the first world have decided that it is immoral for children to work. What is "work"? When a child helps at home, is this not work? From the age of six, Mongolian nomad children in the area where I work are helping out their parents. They don't call it help; they call it work. The children help with milking the cows, slaughtering and butchering animals, making food, and herding cattle.

Is this wrong? Only very recently have some societies achieved enough wealth that they can dispense with child labor. In the past, and still today in poor societies, children must work if families are to eat.

Westerners living in cozy first-world societies are so disconnected from what it means to be poor that they can't comprehend this. "Defenders of children's rights" propose a ban on Indian rugs because child labor is involved. Should such a measure succeed, children will find it harder to eat. Just because the world is less than perfect is no excuse to make it worse - and feel good about it!

When education means more food, parents will send their children to school rather than put them to work. It is in such structural rearrangements that the "solution" to the "problem" of child labor will be found. This is not to say that wanton abuse of children by companies should be tolerated, but "work" and "abuse" are not the same thing.

Defenders of children's rights should militate against the latter and stop equating the two. The purpose of any policy advocacy in the name of children should be to improve their welfare. Simply putting them out of work will do the opposite.

Francisco Gil-White

Los Angeles

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UCLA, Department of Anthropology

Don't forget charitable contributions

Your debut Work & Money section (Oct. 27) is practical and relevant, an interesting read. But I hope most readers, in developing a budget, would add a category that is sadly lacking in the sample provided by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service: charitable contributions. Whether major donation or "widow's mite," this category should be a given, not an afterthought.

M. K. Merelice

Brookline, Mass.

Whale of a dilemma

I would like to comment on the article "'Free Willy' Snared in a Legal Tangle" (Oct. 22). As a resident of Newport, Ore., and a volunteer at the Oregon Coast Aquarium for more than four years, I see the situation a little differently.

The comment about releasing Keiko into the North Atlantic leaves unsaid his critical need for a family to support him. Research in the Northwest suggests that orcas usually exist only in a family structure.

Keiko's trainers have done a good job of developing his strength, including his ability to stay under water. Ultimately, he may become strong enough to keep up with a pod. But Keiko's possible future location in a sea pen raises questions of the habits of fish-eating orcas. Is pod activity where fish are concentrated, or do the whales catch them on their own? Would a fjord or bay have enough fish for Keiko, or would the "Free Willy Keiko Foundation" need to supplement this supply?

Keiko's presence at Newport has helped the aquarium, Newport businesses, and the foundation. Yes, he is a "cash cow" for all involved. But it's not just a "custody battle," because no one disputes that the foundation owns him. It is about whether he is being given the best treatment and training. The only winners now will be the lawyers and accountants - not the aquarium or the foundation, or possibly not even Keiko.

Walt Roehmer

Newport, Ore.

Your letters are welcome. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed to

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