Most kids their age are out kicking soccer balls around. But a group of Monroe High School students concerned about the child workers who made those balls took their fight straight to the top of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The result: The nation's second-largest school district banned the purchase of balls and other gear from companies believed to use child labor.
The campaign by the two dozen students of Monroe's law and government magnet mirrors similar efforts by young people nationwide. Many are disturbed to discover that some of their favorite toys and sporting gear are made by children no older than themselves. For the students at Monroe, that reality hit home when some members of the soccer team realized that they won the city championship with balls made by Pakistani children.
Pakistan makes most of the soccer balls imported into the United States every year. The LAUSD alone buys about 800 soccer balls annually. The Monroe students began their crusade as part of a class project. From there, they used the Internet to research conditions and contacted national and international human rights organizations. Along the way, they petitioned elected officials, including school board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the district in which Monroe is located.
Finally, the students were invited to address the board, which ordered an immediate halt to buying balls--or anything else--made by child workers. Enforcement of the policy will be difficult, however. Because the school district buys most of its equipment from third-party suppliers, it can be tough to verify how items are made. An encouraging trend is that the LAUSD is not alone. Even some professional leagues are insisting that their balls and other equipment not be made by children.
For the students at Monroe, the effort exposed them to a world that most will never know--a world where toil is the rule and toys are anything but fun. Too often, the response to such exposure is cynicism or hopelessness. The problem seems too big, too far away to be real. Yet the teenagers at Monroe demonstrated how far a little work and a lot of compassion can go.
Will their efforts stop the exploitation of children? No. But if more people follow their simple example of fixing a little corner of the world, the whole planet would be better off. The exercise began as a lesson in international law. In the end, though, the students were the ones who taught us all a lesson in humanity.