How do you feel when you see pictures like this one on the left? Sickened and disgusted at how children are exploited for heavy, manual labor that is well beyond their physical abilities, working in dirty conditions that are obviously unsafe even for adults?
Do you feel angry at the big businesses that exploit such labor, and who take advantage of children and their poor families in these situations by forcing them to work for slave wages in such conditions?
Do you immediately wish that there was a number you could call to complain about using children in this way, to give the CEO and other officers and owners of this company a good piece of your mind about how they treat children? Are you ready to boycott the company that would use child labor in such conditions, and that would make a young, sweet, innocent child look so overwhelmed and unhappy?
Well the joke’s on you because this picture was not taken at some third-world, impoverished construction site owned by a fat cat tycoon. Here’s the actual picture as it was sent to me, without my cropping:
On April 29, 2015, after this original column was published, it was brought to my attention that this picture was not taken at a Kingdom Hall build. While I immediately removed this post from my page, I am going to restore it for the following reason; the Pinterest user above thought it was a child at a Kingdom Hall build, and after seeing this picture, he or she referred to this as a “wonderful provision” and actually thanked their god for such labor.
I have made some revisions to this column accordingly as I still feel the information regarding child labor has great merit, whether the above picture is valid or not, and I appreciate the reader who brought this to my attention.
Child Participation in the Religion
Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses learn to participate in the religion from a very young age, and certainly there is nothing wrong with some forms of this participation. For example, during their weekly study of the Watchtower magazine, a child might be called on to give a simple answer. When they become old enough, they may read scriptures as part of their comments or give short discourses in front of the congregation.
Participating in church services is not the only thing expected from children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, however. Young children and even babies accompany their parents in the door-to-door preaching work. When they’re young, children may ring the doorbells of the houses or hold a tract that their parents will offer, and as they get older they may read a scripture or give a quick presentation to whomever answers the door. Usually by their preteen years, they’re expected to be giving their own presentations to householders on their own.
Other day-to-day participation in the religion may include helping to clean the Kingdom Hall when assigned, as well as assembly halls and the sports arenas where district conventions are held. I believe that once they’re 16, they can also volunteer to assist at these conventions on their own.
Participation Versus Labor
Participating in church services when you’re a child is certainly not anything new or specific to Jehovah’s Witnesses; Catholics have altar boys, other religions have Sunday schools with youth participation along with youth choirs, volunteer groups, and the like. However, when does participation in church activities cross the line into labor for a corporation, and when does that labor become illegal for a young child?
Think for a moment about the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses and what it entails. When I was “in,” there was a meeting to organize car groups at 9:00 a.m. at the local Kingdom Hall; we would usually be out and knocking on our first door by 9:30. At 12:30, there was another meeting; many participants only worked during this morning segment and would drop off their car group at noon; those who wanted to continue in the preaching would eat their lunch before the 12:30 meeting. By 1:00 p.m. they were back out knocking on doors, and might quit around 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. This arrangement might vary slightly in different areas, but could be considered a good example of a daily preaching schedule.
For a child being brought into this work, they would be sitting at a Kingdom Hall by 9:00 a.m., and not be done with this work until noon; that’s three hours of walking up and down streets or sitting in the Kingdom Hall or a car, waiting for others. Many children did participate in this work during the week, as children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are often homeschooled and accompany their parents when they go out preaching. Children in public schools often participated in this work every Saturday.
I might pose the question, how is this preaching not considered “employment” or outright labor? It’s not a church service or ritual, it’s not done inside the church, and it’s sole purpose is to recruit new members of the religion. Those who preach leave literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses and aim to start “bible studies” so that they can make new converts, or members of the church. Again, how is this not “labor” or actual work, versus simple church participation? If a school took children out into the neighborhood for hours at a time, knocking on doors to find new students, I imagine parents would object to their children being sent out to do this free work for them. Yet, when it’s a religion it’s okay?
According to child labor laws, in the U.S. a child under 14 cannot be employed and, if they are over 14, they cannot work for more than 3 hours during a school day; the exceptions are employment by parents, newspaper routes, child actors, and agricultural work. No matter other restrictions, children cannot be employed in hazardous conditions.
The method Jehovah’s Witnesses use to do this preaching work is very labor-intensive and involves being outside in all but the very worst weather conditions. Jehovah’s Witnesses take their children out to preach during summer and winter, in the heat, cold, and rain.
Heat, cold, and rain may not seem hazardous, but take another look at the photo at the top of this page. A small boy, about four or five, carrying a load of bricks as tall as his torso, without a shirt and for some reason I’m guessing without shoes. He’s on a construction site with no hard hat, no safety vest, no eye protection. How is this not a “hazardous condition”? Yet, again, this Pinterest user felt that it was “wonderful” for him to be in those conditions.
While the picture above is not from a Kingdom Hall build site, I do remember children working on those types of sites for many years before rules were finally put into place regarding a minimum age for such work (15 in the area in which I live). Note that those children I remember, and the teens who currently volunteer at such sites, are building a new Kingdom Hall for which their own families may have helped pay for, and which will be owned by the leaders of his religion. (See this post for more on the property flipping and other financial schemes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
Child Labor = Religion of Love?
I’m sure some might make a legal argument about whether or not the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the participation of their children can be considered actual child labor, but I’m not trying to make a legal argument here; this is my blog, not a court of law. My point is simply that the children of this religion do an inordinate amount of work to make new recruits, maintain property they don’t own, and work to build new property they won’t ever own in the future. Their comfort and enjoyment, health, physical well-being, and even their safety aren’t always of importance to this religion when it comes to putting them to work to support it and help it grow.
Note, I’m all for having children work and do chores around the house, and no doubt participating in a religion makes them feel like they’re more of a part of it, like participating in school. Chances are children enjoy certain forms of participation, to a certain extent. They may relish giving comments at a Sunday meeting and it’s sometimes cute to see a child dusting chairs at a Kingdom Hall.
We’re not talking about incidental participation like that, however. We’re talking about hours and hours of working to recruit new members for your religion, and pictures of children working in unsafe conditions that would be illegal for a professional contractor, with other Jehovah’s Witnesses referring to this free labor in those conditions as a “wonderful provision” from Jehovah. Legal or not, how is this a loving arrangement or “wonderful,” and a provision from god himself? Loving to whom?
It’s also worth noting that there is no scriptural precedent for having children working such backbreaking labor, or even preaching for that matter. Jesus chose adult men to be his apostles and to send in the preaching work, and his only interaction with children were when they were playing in the market and then approached him while he was teaching. It’s also worth nothing that Jehovah’s Witnesses often criticize “the world,” or anyone and everyone who is not a JW, and their “lack of love,” as the December, 2006, Awake magazine says:
“The lack of love you see in the world is largely due to its being filled with self-centered people, many of whom were raised in homes without restraint.”
Yet, it’s this same “world” that made child labor laws in the first place, in order to protect children from abuse and exploitation. These laws are far from perfect, but it’s striking that this supposedly loveless “world” has at least attempted to protect children from being used for cheap physical labor, more so than a so-called loving religion that is Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If you would like to voice your complaint over the use of children for religious recruitment and for how congregants feel that children working in construction projects in unsafe conditions is “wonderful,” please visit the Contact Us page of the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses and choose your own location.
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