More of an educational lecture than a documentary film, Len Morris’s Stolen Childhoods nonetheless remains a powerful wake-up call about the global problem of child labor. Shot in eight countries over a period of seven years, Morris’s heartbreaking investigation finds abuse and exploitation throughout the modern world, from 12-year-old Indian carpet manufacturers strapped to looms for 13 hours a day to youngsters illegally working fishing platforms in Indonesia and underage migrant workers in Texas whose families’ destitution requires them to sacrifice school for work. Narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring interviews with 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mangar Maathai, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi (who has rescued over 40,000 kids during his 25-year crusade), the film makes an impassioned appeal for awareness and action. Even if its proposed solutions for the problem involves a somewhat idealistic (and ambiguously defined) combination of activism and government intervention, Morris deftly interweaves stories of child workers with portraits of programs in Latin America and Africa that attempt to give these kids an opportunity for education. His intimate film’s tone can—thanks in part to its plethora of intertitle facts about the prevalence of child labor—be overly didactic, but such preachiness is largely palatable because of the underreported topic’s gravity. Stolen Childhoods thankfully refrains from simply bashing global capitalism as the root cause of this evil even as it details the ways in which institutionalized exploitation by the financial powers-that-be perpetuate a system in which adolescent workers (in places such as Brazil and Kenya) are given the impossible decision between starving themselves and their families to death or willingly becoming slaves. And when juxtaposed with others’ (often wrongheaded) pie-in-the-sky pleas for altruistic action (such as a Brazilian senator’s idea for a “Social Marshall Plan,” or the film’s support for canceling World Bank-owed debts), Harkin’s statement that child laborers are “a breeding ground for Osama bin Laden” wisely taps into the most likely catalyst for eventual action: economic and security self-interest.
- Balcony Releasing
- 85 min
- Len Morris
- Meryl Streep, Mangar Maathai, Tom Harkin, Kailash Satyarthi, Cristovam Buarque
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