by Sarah Reside
Special to the Millstone
A century ago only a select few attended school beyond the age of 12. Children worked full time, 12 hours a day, six days a week, doing dangerous in industrial settings.
In fact, textile mill owners in Almonte were infamous for opposing and ignoring Canadian child labour laws passed in the 1880’s which prohibited them from hiring boys under age 12 and girls under age 14 and employed children well into the 20th. century.
On November 30th, one hundred students at Almonte High School will take The Vow of Silence, a gesture of solidarity with child workers around the world. For the full school day, which is from 8:00am to 2:15pm, students will not speak.
The Vow of Silence is intended to draw attention to the fact that, though Canada has abolished child labour for the most part, other countries have not. Today, experts estimate 215 million children are forced to work around the world.
Last year fifty-seven countries participated in the Vow of Silence. Just a few weeks ago approximately 500 people stood for two hours in Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto in a modified Vow of Silence.
The Vow is the brainchild of Free the Children, a non-profit foundation founded by Craig Kielburger. Kielburger, a Canadian, started the foundation when he was only 12 years old after reading about the murder of a child the same age sold into slavery in Pakistan at age 4, employed in a carpet factory and killed for speaking out about child rights.
Today, Free the Children is run by Craig and his brother Marc. Together with youth activists, Free the Children works with communities in six different countries to break free of the cycle of poverty. Some of the countries they help in are Kenya, Ecuador, and Haiti.
Though boycotting products produced by children may seem like the best course of action, a study by Cornell University had concluded it would make life worse for children in countries such as Ghana, Morocco, and Brazil.]
This is the second year students at ADHS have participated in The Vow of Silence. The Vow of Silence at ADHS is being organized by the school’s small branch of Free the Children led by Michelle Toshack and Sarah Reside.
If you are not a student but care about this issue, you might consider a personal moment of silence in memory of children who grew up in Almonte working at Rosamund Woolen Mills #1 and #2 a century ago. Used to work under, in and around heavy clacking looms, barefoot for traction on floors slick with machine oil and tufts of wool, breathing air thick with fibres, many suffered ill effects their entire lives.
Sarah Reside is a grade 12 student at Almonte District High School