How do you feel when you see pictures like this one? 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?
If so, your attitude is quite different that of Jehovah’s Witnesses; here’s the actual picture as it was sent to me, without my cropping:
This picture was actually used on a website that decries child slave labor around the world (this site), but somehow it wound up in the hands of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who assumed it was a picture from a new JW Kingdom Hall construction site. Instead of questioning why a small child was being so overworked, carrying a stack of bricks that is probably heavier than him, without a shirt much less protective clothing, she praised it as a “wonderful provision” from Jehovah. This is a clear indication of how clueless Jehovah’s Witnesses often are when it comes to the demands made of their congregants, especially children, including physical demands made on them for the work involved in recruitment, construction, and other such areas.
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 services is not the only thing expected of them, 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 presentations to householders on their own.
Other participation in the religion may include helping to clean the Kingdom Hall when assigned, as well as assembly halls and the sports arenas where conventions are held. I believe that once they’re 16, children 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, and perhaps stop at noon. For those who wanted to keep working, there was another meeting at 12:30; by 1 o’clock, they were back out knocking on doors, and they might then 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 of Jehovah’s Witnesses are homeschooled and will then accompany their parents when they go out preaching at least one or more days during the week; most families, and then also children in public schools, participated in this work every Saturday as well.
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 a comfortable, air conditioned church, and it’s sole purpose is to recruit new members for the religion. 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; 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 to this law include employment by parents, newspaper routes, child actors, and agricultural work. No matter any other restrictions or exemptions, children cannot be employed in hazardous conditions, under any circumstances. Very ironically, according to these laws, door-to-door solicitation can be considered “hazardous,” and is prohibited for children under certain ages in many states in the U.S. (For a full rundown of those current laws, visit the Department of Labor’s website at this page.)
While the door-to-door preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not technically considered solicitation, this type of work is considered “hazardous” because it’s very labor-intensive, and involves being outside in all but the very worst weather conditions, and it also means facing any number of threatening or abusive persons at their home. The preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not without these hazards; they take their children out to preach during summer and winter, in the heat, cold, and rain. Householders are often very rude, even verbally abusive; children are subject to this type of abuse when they’re in this work, and I certainly remember hearing a barrage of filth and obscenities at times when I was preaching as a child.
Heat, cold, and rain may not seem hazardous when knocking on doors of residential homes, but I do remember children working on construction sites for Jehovah’s Witness buildings, before rules were finally put into place regarding a minimum age for such work (usually 15 or 16, according to my sources). Note that these children are constructing, not a barn or shed or even a new home for their family, but a building which will be owned by the leaders of his religion. (See this post for more information on the property flipping of Jehovah’s Witnesses.) While children at such sites may not work shirtless and barefoot like the boy in the photo above, I’m sure most people would recognize that construction work is very demanding, and that even full grown adults find it difficult and physically taxing.
Child Labor = Religion of Love?
I’m sure some might make a legal argument about whether or not the participation of children in the religion’s work can be considered actual child labor, but I’m not trying to make a legal argument here; this is a 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, 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 physical labor, pounding the pavement to recruit new members for a religion, and hard work on construction sites. Jehovah’s Witnesses are so clueless as to how this might affect children, and if it’s healthy much less enjoyable for them, that a child being used as an example of shameful slavery is referred to as a “wonderful provision” from Jehovah. Legal or not, how is this a loving arrangement or “wonderful” in any sense of the word? Loving to whom?
Show Me the Scripture
It’s also worth noting that there is no scriptural precedent for having children working such backbreaking labor, or even preaching. 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. It’s also worth nothing that Jehovah’s Witnesses often criticize “the world,” or anyone 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, which is more than happy to take full advantage of that very same labor.
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.
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