Faced with the sheer number of children trapped in child labour, 211,000,000 world wide, the individual can feel completely powerless. How can they possibly do anything to help eradicate the problem? Writer and ACLAIM member, Larry O’Loughlin believes the work of 1960’s meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz offers an answer.
211,000,000 child labourers
The figure’s huge.
Approximately forty times the size of the population of Ireland.
All in child labour.
211,000,000 child labourers.
The figure is overwhelming.
No, it’s more than overwhelming, it’s intimidating.
How can we possibly make a difference when the problem is that large?
Let’s assume for a moment, we want to make a difference. Let’s assume that we are appalled to think that an approximate 440 products on sale in the E.C., from clothing to glass ware to paving stones to brassware, are made by child labourers, and want to do something about it but feel the problem is too big.
What do we do?
Well, first step. Let’s shrink the problem.
Let’s forget about 211,000,000 and think of 1
It can be a child you know, a brother, a sister, a niece, a nephew, a cousin, a son, a daughter, a grandchild, a neighbour. It could be Iqbal Masih, brought into the carpet sheds of Pakistan at the age of six murdered at twelve because of his outspoken condemnation of child labour. It could be Ashraf, taken into domestic service at six and severely burnt by his master’s wife for “stealing” the remains of a glass of milk. It could be one of the girls born into the stone quarries of Rajasthan, the third generation of their family to be “bonded” for a debt of less than forty euro.
It doesn’t matter.
Think of 1.
The statistics are just one child’s story - multiplied.
Liberating one child seems much less intimidating.
So, having reduced the problem down to manageable proportions the question remains, how can the individual make a difference, how can any personal action work towards the eradication of child labour? How can an individual action contribute help to free that one child we have been visualising?
In 1960 Edward Norton Lorenz, a meteorologist working at the Massachusetts Institute of technology was working to produce a computer programme that would accurately forecast weather conditions. Working on a Royal McBee - an extremely slow and crude machine by today’s standards, he wrote simplified equations and solved them. Much to the fascination of his colleagues, his programme results did behave a lot like real weather would.
One day, he decided to check a particular part of the programmed in more detail, but rather than start from the beginning, tried to continue a run he’d done the day before. So, he punched in the numbers from the computer print out, started the machines and went away to take a break. When he returned an hour later he couldn’t believe his eyes. The programme had gone “crazy”. It was producing results that looked as if the belonged to an entirely different programme.
Lorenz first thought was that the computer had malfunctioned but when he checked his computer everything was fine. So, he checked his arithmetic, no changes there. It was the same equation. So, what was the cause of this wild variation? Eventually he found the answer.
To save space, his printouts only showed three digits but the programme in the computer’s memory actually used six digits. By entering the numbers from the print out Lorenz had rounded off the fourth decimal place. It was a change so insignificant it should have made no difference. As he said later, it was roughly the difference a single puff of wind would make, and meteorologists believed that a single puff of wind would make no difference at all. Accidentally, Loenz had proved current meteorological theory incorrect…
Speaking at the New York Academy of Sciences in 1973 he said:
One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.
By the time he addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 the sea gull morphed into the more poetic butterfly - the title of his talk was* :
Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?
Hence the butterfly effect.
But butterfly or seagull the implication was staggering. Meteorologists had always presumed that if you barely change a cause, you’ll barely change the effect. Suddenly, Lorenz saw that the weather would change utterly if you started things out just a little differently.
Butterfly or seagull the implication is staggering. A single tiny change can produce a result out of all proportion to the change itself. For 211,000,000 child labourers, and those who feel disempowered, in the face of such numbers, the implications are obvious. One action, one request to a TD for the E.U. to take action to ensure that individual countries trading with us eliminate child labour, one letter (such as the one elsewhere on this site) asking for government support to implement the millennium goals, including universal education, one question to a shopkeeper “Can you tell me if this product is made by child labour?”, one request to have products labelled child labour free, could have an affect far greater than the individual action.
Does The Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings In Brazil Set Of A Tornado In Texas?
Can the actions of the individual lead to the elimination of child labour?
If one puff of wind can change the history of the weather then maybe, just maybe one individual action can change the history of child labour?
And we can all take ONE action
It’s sad to think
That lots of toys
That moms and dads
Buy girls and boys
Are made by little
Girls and boys
Who never get
To play with toys.
(SAD appears in the anthology “Something Beginning With P” published by O’Brien Press and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher)