RABAT -- Perched on a low wooden bench in front of a loom, cutting knife at her side, Hiyat is an automaton with whirring hands.
At the age of 11, Hiyat knots rugs six days a week in a concrete box where 200 weavers hunch elbow to elbow at hand looms. Forty years ago carpet weaving was a handicraft that little Moroccan girls learned at home from their mothers. Now it is big business and little girls as young as 4 work in factories.
Loop, wrap, pull, slice. Loop, wrap, pull, slice. Hiyat would have to tie one strand of woolen pile onto the loom every 2.43 seconds to keep up with what her supervisor says is the factory's pace of knotting. The monotony tears on her. "I wanted to stay in school," she said, "not work here."
The factory that hired her, Mocary SA, is part of a global shame. Tens of thousands of well-to-do employers throughout the Third World work children for pennies an hour in mind-blunting or dangerous jobs. Others make money by maneuvering children into criminal work, turning homeless boys into street thieves or 13-year-old girls into prostitutes.
At 11 carpet factories in Morocco, reporters found weavers on the looms who looked unmistakably under Morocco's minimum legal work age of 12. The conditions in all the factories were similar: fat wool fuzz balls skittering across the floors, the dank odor of wool dust and dye, areas too dimly lighted to work without strain.
"We prefer to get them when they are about seven," said Nasser Yebbous, the overseer of one plant in Marrakesh. Children's hands are nimbler, he said. "And their eyes are better, too. They are faster when they are small."
Laws in nearly every nation ban such practices. Yet in many countries, the laws to protect children aren't working. Throughout a nine-month inquiry by the Cox Newspapers, the same rancid scenes repeated from Morocco to India to the Philippines to Brazil to Thailand: children sweating while labor inspectors, police and export promotion bureaus look the other way.
In 1979, the International Labor Organization estimated that 56 million children between 11 and 15 served in the world's work force. Last year, the ILO raised that estimate to 88 million. The ILO figure doesn't include many forms of children's work, such as piecework in the home or street peddling. Nor does it count any children under 11. If "informal" child labor were counted, "the estimate would run into the hundreds of millions," a UNICEF staff paper reported last year.
Little wonder. Since 1950, the world's pool of potential child workers has nearly doubled until now there are 1.1 billion children between 5 and 14 years. Cheap health techniques, including mass vac-This article is based on a series in the Cox Newspapers. Joseph Albright, is chief foreign correspondent for the Cox Newspapers. Marcia Kunstel is a Cox special correspondent. cinations and oral rehydration for diarrhea, are keeping multitudes alive who would have died in their first year a generation ago. New schools are not being built fast enough to stay ahead of the tide of 15 million extra school-age children every year.
And for what sort of life are these millions being saved?
They are growing up as the race for development propels more and more of the Third World into the sweatshop manufacturing era from which Western couries have emerged during this century.
Under piecework rates, Hiyat earns at most 15 cents an hour in Morocco. Halfway around the world, Eliza Lualhati, 15, says she earns about 13 cents an hour for piecemeal work at a high-speed sewing machine in a live-in garment factory in a suburb of Manila. Eliza doesn't complain about working 90 to 110 hours a week. But she said she wishes the boss wouldn't make her pay for the thread.
Eliza's routine six days a week at the War Win's Style shirt factory goes like this: Wake up at 6 a.m. on a pile of cloth scraps beside her sewing machine. Make breakfast. Sweep the sewing room floor. Then:
"We start sewing exactly at 7 a.m. We usually get a break around noon. It lasts maybe two hours, but only half an hour if we are on a rush. We start up again for the afternoon and work until about 7 p.m. We stop for about half an hour for dinner.
"Then we start sewing again. Usually until midnight. Sometimes it is until 3 a.m. In December, we go right on through, just taking a catnap."
The factory owner, Josie Cruz, sounded compassionate. "Sometimes they get ill," she said. "Some of them have suffered anemia from lack of sleep."
But Cruz said if she wants to succeed in the garment business, she has no choice. "We have a strict shipping schedule," she said. "If we fail to deliver, there will be no work to be done for the next two weeks. So whenever there is a rush order, they know they have to finish, even if they have to work 23 hours a day."
Wages are even lower in Thailand, where thousands of young peasant girls work seven days a week inside hole-in-the-wall Bangkok factories called "shophouses" for less than seven cents an hour. That's comes to about one-fifth of Thailand's minimum wage, itself among the lowest in the world.
"Sometimes I don't get a day off for weeks," said Sarapa Nasap, who wraps toy Uzi machine guns in a plastics factory in Bangkok.
Sarapa, 15, said she is paid a monthly salary of $20, plus a bonus of 20 cents each night she works later than 10 p.m. Spread out over the 70 to 90 hours a week she says she works, her pay would average six cents an hour.
Among nine Bangkok sweatshop children whom reporters succeeded in interviewing away from their bosses, the pay ranged from 3 to 16 cents an hour.
Siraporn Chookaew, 14, earns 16 cents an hour running a sewing machine in a skirt factory, often working 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Boon Mee Norakot, 13, pulls in about 4 cents an hour whittling rattan in a furniture factory 85 hours a week.
The live-in factory system is such an accepted part of Thailand's labor patterns that it didn't embarrass one of Sarapa's bosses to talk about the arrangements.
"If we give them meals, then we can control them very easily," said Komol Trairattanapa, export manager of Siam Asian Enterprises Ltd. He said his company pays the minimum wage, about 35 cents an hour. In Firozabad, India, work injuries are just as much a part of growing up as low pay. An estimated 50,000 children under the legal work age of 14 work in glass factories that look like tintypes from a Moscow museum of capitalist horrors.
These ragged children trot like driven animals around dark factories, carrying long pipes that drip molten glass heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most commonly, the job of a young Indian glass worker is carrying a six-foot-long metal pole that had been dipped into a furnace to retrieve a gob of the molten glass. The carriers run the hollow poles to an older glass blower who shapes such products as beakers for laboratories, coffee jars and drinking glasses for some of India's five-star hotels.
Then, to speed the process, the glass blower throws the pole javelin-style to a child several feet below him. The boy has to catch the pole with its shaped glass -- at this stage glowing dull orange from its temperature of 950 degrees -- and spin it and drizzle it with water to tame its fiery heat.
Of more than 500 child workers whom reporters saw in the five largest glass factories in Firozabad, not one wore protective glasses, shoes or gloves. At every factory, glass shards littered grimy floors where workers of all ages walked either barefooted or in rubber thongs.
As might be expected, visitors at Firozabad's OM Glass Works saw one boy with a bandaged ear, another with a scarred, unfocused eye and a third who had a section of hair burned off his scalp. At Advance Glass, a worker propped himself against a doorway while another employee tried to staunch the blood spilling from his foot.
Mohammed Batsin, 12, said he did not mind working with hot glass and furnaces. "No, No. I don't have any fear," said Mohammad, a slight boy in shorts who had worked for Emkay Glass Works for about a year. "At first I got hurt, but now I don't anymore."
Mohammed said he makes 11 rupees a day, which comes to about 86 cents. And who are the ultimate beneficiaries of children working in sweatshops? The vast majority of products are sold for local consumption. Eliza's shirts, for instance, are sold in a street market 10 miles from her factory.
But tons of goods are made specifically for export to the West. In some cases children not only yield cheap labor for the employer but also produce merchandise bargains for blue chip foreign companies that wouldn't conceive of keeping children on their own payrolls.
Macy's department stores, for instance, buy hand-made rugs in Morocco from Hiyat's employer, Mocary SA. The economics of Moroccan carpets works like this: Moroccan weavers earn about $19.34 for weaving one five-square-yard carpet, under piecework rates which the government says are standard throughout the industry.
Judging from Macy's inventory documents found attached to carpets on sale in Manhattan two months ago, Macy's bought five-square-yard carpets from Mocary for $166.40 each. After paying $50.84 for freight, insurance and customs duty, Macy's added a $281.76 markup and offered the carpets to the public for $499. Other department stores carry similar Moroccan rugs, and Macy's markup may well be typical for American retailers. But by the time the rug reaches an American consumer, Macy's will have collected roughly 15 times as much in markup as the weavers earned for knotting it. Macy's declines to comment on its Moroccan carpets, which bear the label "Made in Morocco exclusively for R.H. Macy's."
The president of a Manhattan importing firm that has served as Macy's importing agent for many of its Moroccan rugs, said that he was familiar with child labor in the Third World, but he expressed surprise when told that the Mocary factory employed children.
Is child labor some natural Darwinian stage that all countries must endure for a few centuries before they can hope to take off as "newly industrialized countries?" It doesn't have to be. South Korea and Kenya -- separated by wealth, continents and cultures -- have shown over the last two decades how it is possible to combat the worst forms of child exploitation, at least within factories, without waiting for poverty to wither away. Mass education is what took children out of the textile mills in Britain and the United States a century ago, and it is keeping most of them out of sweatshops in South Korea and Kenya today. Some educational systems are much more efficient than others in spreading literacy. Witness the differences between Morocco and Jordan, two Arab countries with roughly similar economic profiles, both ruled by monarchies, neither enriched by oil. Morocco's educational system has been geared for three decades primarily to educating an elite. The result is that only 70 percent of school-age boys and 46 percent of school-age girls go to primary schools, according to United Nations statistics.
King Hussein of Jordan set out on another path, that of delivering mass education to his desert kingdom swollen by Palestinian refugees. As a consequence, 91 percent of Jordanian boys and 88 percent of Jordanian girls are enrolled in primary schools.
It is no surprise that Morocco's little girls work in factories and Jordan's little girls do not. The surprise is that Morocco has spent a higher fraction of its gross national product on education than Jordan, partly to pay for Morocco's expensive universities and partly because of the tradition of relating Moroccan public school teachers' pay to teachers' salaries in France.
The law of supply and demand also provides another solution for the short run: Honest enforcement of existing factory laws can dampen some of the demand for child labor. In Kenya, for instance, sociologist Philista Onyango says, "You won't find a Kenyan child in a factory. The labor inspectors are very straight."
Child workers are often concentrated in countries where masses of adults, including their parents, cannot find jobs. If enforcement of child labor and overtime laws makes it bothersome to hire children, employers will have more incentive to hire adults.
Some families will suffer from loss of children's income, but others will come out ahead. As Indian social reformer Swami Agnivesh put it, "In the long run, if children are thrown out of jobs, the businesses will have to continue by employing adults at better wages."