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on 16 March 2014
Jeremy Seabrook's "Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market" (2001) is an innovative look at poverty in the modern world. The innovation consists of a comparative element in the book, namely comparing the experience of children in 19th Britain with those in late 20th century Bangladesh. To paint a picture of the British experience Seabrook turns to the work of such writers as the Hammonds (The Rise Of Modern Industry), Henry Mayhew (London Labour and the London Poor) and E.P.Thompson (The Making of the English Working Class) amongst others, as well as government reports and the memoirs of those who lived through the period. For Bangladesh, Seabrook relies on his own observations from extensive visits made their during the 1990's. The similarities and contrasts between the two times and two places make for some thoughtful and interesting reading.

Child labour is obviously the central subject of this book, and Seabrook's observations on it go farther than the child labour bad, education good dichotomy that was the discourse of many well intentioned people in NGO's at the time the book was written, to looking at the whole phenomena at a variety of levels. Given Bangladesh's position in the Global economy, in no small measure a legacy of its past as a part of the British Empire (and a part that was brutally deindustrialised during the last half of the 18th century) it becomes unavoidable for families to survive by counting on their children's contributions to the household budget, or if they are apprenticed out (something that was common in Britain during the early 19th century) the child would, hopefully, be acquiring a useful trade, and at any rate would be getting food and board at no expense to the family. At the level of each individual child, while many have a aspirations to become educated, there is also a deal of pride that they are bringing in an income of sorts and helping their families to survive.

The book contains numerous accounts from the children themselves, Seabrook is an able and sensitive interviewer, and spends a deal of time with the children concerned at home, in the streets and at their places of work. The picture painted of existence in a poorly developed third world country is vivid, and the complexities of that existence are made crystal clear. The comparisons made with Britain are also very interesting, and also a stark warning to those who wish to blame child labour in Bangladesh on the peoples religion or race.

Definitely a book well worth reading, even though it doesn't provide all the answers to the child labour phenomena, it will at least provide a vivid, thoughtful and intelligent insight into the subject itself.
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