Wednesday, March 19, 2008

PlayPump System = Child Labor?

The post below is from Wadami of FashionAfrica.com. Thanks Dammie! It's definitely an interesting take on what seems a well-meaning concept/idea, and we would love to hear your thoughts...

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The PlayPump system is a new movement to bring cleaner water to sub-saharan Africa. PlayPumps International’s mission is to help improve the lives of children and their families by providing easy access to clean drinking water, enhancing public health, and offering play equipment to millions across Africa.

PlayPumps International is an NGO registered in South Africa as well as a sister 501(c) 3 organization in the U.S. and by 2010 they will have carried out their mission by installing 4,000 PlayPump® water systems in 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa

How do they intend to achieve this? By building "Merry - go - rounds" that children will play on whilst simultaneously pumping water from the ground.


The project has begun in a few parts of sub-saharan Africa, where girls are responsible for fulfilling the jobs of water carriers. The girls are usually late for school, often having to join the boys later on in the day because they are expected to carry water back from springs and lakes. The PlayPump system aims to involve all kids in the process, and hopefully improve education opportunities for the young female population.

Watch the National Geographic feature on Play Pumps:





This will definitely be beneficial to developing countries in Africa and worldwide, but it has been brought to my attention that there are possibilities of child labour/abuse because of what has been called "the movement's deceptive nature".

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So now we ask, is there really potential for this project to open the door to child labour issues, where children are made to "work" to provide their villages with water? Are they not just being saved the time it would take for them to trek the distance to fetch water, and at the same time, being given the opportunity to play? Could a follow-up headline sometime in 2009 read: "Children forced into manual labour to pump water in rural Africa"?

23 comments:

Sif said...

No child labor here! Considering the logistics, capital and maintenance costs of a modern day water distribution system I think this idea is a positive initiative.

Playing around on a merry-go-around may require just as much energy as trekking a long distance with a full bucket of water, but it's more fun. The whole idea is innovative, resourceful (especially using the sides of the tank as a billboard) and it overall goal is noble. I think these guys are on to something. I hope the get enough funding to install the system in the many rural areas across Africa that need it.

Mwabi said...

Unless the kids are made to spin around for hours and hours and aren't allowed to do anything else...it is not child labor in my opinion. I love that the girls have been freed up to get to school on time, very innovative and love the goal of making this available to many African countries.

Temi Kolawole said...

If there was for any reason water scarcity in the US for example, and they made playgrounds simultaneously pump water...would it be called child abuse? I mean the kids aren't on a schedule or anything its just a wise use of resources, they play out of their own free will whenever they want. They aren't forced to play. If the pumps weren't there they'd be playing on the merry-go-rounds anyway right?

Jumoke said...

It is no doubt an innovative solution to a serious problem but please do not let its creativity and productivity blind its flaws, especially when it involves children.
I still think there is a very fine line between kids playing for enjoyment and working for their supper. While the play pump is one of many options for pumping water, I am assuming it is one of the cheapest means, so how much longer before kids are being encouraged to “play” to being forced to do so? Growing up, the merry-go-round (“m-g-r”) was not the most popular item on the playground as a lot of work went into just one spin (“ride-over” and “mother-may-I?” worked just fine). Please keep in mind that because National Geographic shows a clip of the entire community on one m-g-r, does not necessarily mean its popularity was not staged (I was surprised to not find flies in some kids' eyes), therefore, what happens if kids choose something other than the m-g-r to play on? Do you really think some form of force will not be considered the day water-levels are low? I would not put it past the organization to use mild threats that one either plays on the m-g-r or goes back to fetching water at the crack of dawn. Even I may consider enduring vertigo before afternoon classes to avoid sleep deprivation.
The fact that children no longer have to trek for miles to fetch water does not make the play pump a great alternative - just the better of two evils. If there are other alternatives to pumping water, why must one of them involve children?
Now excuse me while I go throw-up after enduring National Geographic’s dizzying docu-ploitation.

Wadami said...

I commend this movement so much, and just the fact that it's such an easy very effective solution to this huge crisis.

I definitely don't think it's any form of child labor. For one, the children don't get paid, and there's no way we can substitute the joy these kids get from just seeing to Merry-Go-Rounds - lets not forget what part of Africa the PlayPump targets - many of these children are robbed of their childhood, and if they even learn the art of discipline, that to get something or somewhere, they have to work for it... I don't see it as any abuse, but allowing these children lead a better lifestyle they couldn't have had any other way, at this point in time. Through joy and healthwise!

Emmy said...

I think labelling this "child labor" is going a bit too far. However, I agree with Jumoke's point that there are enough incentives in place for this system to be exploited. I refuse to believe that there is no other just-as-cheap alternative to the water pumping problem. What happens when the kids get bored with merry-go-rounding? And it is more than likely that the kids will get bored with this new toy quickly. If you want to enrich the a kid's childhood then by all means build the merry-go-rounds but leave the pumps out of it.

Sif said...

Just re-read my post. excuse the typos....

and just to respond to Jumoke's last point. If the children are tired of going around the m-g-r, they can get adults to do it. It's a pump all they need is someone to rotate the impeller. They figured, "kids like to play, lets make it bigger so it looks like a m-g-r".

Bitchy said...

You know, I think I'm coming round to your side Jumoke? Simply because of the "what happens if kids choose something other than the m-g-r to play on?" question. We all know what would happen in Nigeria if children tired of playing on the pumps, and I don't think it's something we can turn a blind eye to.

And at Sif, I really doubt that adults in these communities are going to get on these m-g-rs themselves. They've already resigned themselves to leaving the work of water fetching to their young women, even when it is affecting the girls' education. My first question was why is it a girl's and not a girl's and boy's job to fetch water?

Given that these communities have such traditional (boys first, girls second) attitudes, do you really think the boys are going to work on the m-g-rs when it becomes tedious, talk less of the adults?

Bitchy said...

Ok only just managed to watch the video. It's a really good idea considering the damage bad water can do, BUT I think it was designed with a different kind of community in mind.

In the West where children's rights are better protected, and where recreation or fun is seen as something beneficial to a child's wellbeing, this would work brilliantly. But in Africa? Who are we kidding?

Forget the "child labour" label for a moment.

Can you not just picture nasty teachers in the playground flogging young children or shouting at them for choosing to do other things at play time rather than run on the m-g-r?

Why couldn't PPI design a "play pump" for the bulls and cows in the community to pull?

Wadami said...

@ Emmy... Y should they leave the pumps out of it, no need... whenever the kids choose to play.. they can pump too...

AND...

in regards to Jumokes "What happens if the kids choose something than the m-g-r".. hello PPL, as stated earlier, do we see what part of Africa the PlayPump benefits?.. there's no other option than to build sand castles by the streams... bacterias much?...

**okay forgetting about this child labor thing*

THAT WILL be so horrible if the teachers now beat the kids, I do understand this is Africa... but I choose to believe the PlayPump system before anything has the heart of these children in mind... Hmmm, perphaps the PlayPump should be notified of this possibility...

Nonetheless, I still stand by my words - No foul play in this PlayPump system. Child Labor/ Abuse should be totally ruled out!

Dami said...

I doubt the playpump initiative has a deceptive nature and, I don't see how this could be exploitative...lets face the fact these communities have serious problems with getting clean water otherwise. Someone has to do the work, and its a really creative way to ensure that clean water is being pumped while some kids are having fun. If kids get tired of spinning around a merry-go-round either because they're tired...or they've grown older, guess what - there will be others who want a turn too. I kind of find it absurd that it will be the case where teachers are flogging kids for not wanting to go on a merry-go-round...we are talking about kids and playtime here, and everywhere around the world I think it's pretty established that kids love the idea of playtime. Plus to these kids there is the added incentive because they are doing something good for their community while playing. I mean otherwise they would be trekking miles to fetch water from some stream. Instead I think it will be more likely the case that tanks and reservoirs are over-filling due to excessive play on these merry-go-rounds :)

dami said...

Just wanted to add that obviously this isn't the best option for providing clean water, and it probably may not fill the need for whole communities, but it is a good and creative one. And it works...such an easy solution to a problem that has been plaguing African communities for years...kinda makes you go yeah...and why didn't I think of this before?

Basically I just think this initiative should be a start, not the end. And it should help spur other innovative initiatives that will provide lasting solutions to the many problems we have in Africa.

Doja said...

I do not approve of it one bit! In africa children are treated badly, doing chores which they should not, this will only add to the long list.
The problem i see is that children will be forced by parent/guardians to keep 'merry go rounding' even when they do not wish to. Why dont they make one where the adults get to ride.
Anyway they do not have a choice so they will gladly take whatever they are given.

Jaycee said...

Wow, I honestly think this is an excellent idea...

Hopefully though, the kids won't play away until dusk, forgetting that they have more important things to do. How will the timing be monitored?

Jaycee said...

Hmmmm...thinking abt this again, in Africa we don't really consider fetching water to be "Child-labor." I mean everyone does it, so it's not negative. It even teaches these kids how to be hard-workers when they become adults...

I just whispered this scenario to my friend, and he said..."well, the only time something like this can cause emotional stress to a child is when the children around that child are not being made to fetch water like the child, but instead are pampered and have all the resources they need...for instance in rich countries." So maybe this is merry-go round thing is not such a good idea, but the initiative is nice sha.

Amelia said...

Let's consider two definitions: 1) work - exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; and 2) play - exercise or activity for amusement or recreation. An article recently published in the New York Times Magazine discusses the psychology of play and its role in the social development of children. Its findings suggest that play, as is described in the article is "apparently purposeless activity," and is both an expendable and necessary activity - expendable because of social pressure to make kids more competitive academically and necessary because research shows that the lack of sufficient play may thwart kids' abilities to develop social acumen. Although this study is specifically focused on the American context, kids are kids. In short, I really do think that playplumps is a noble idea, but the idea is flawed by too many opportunities for exploitation. And why can't these merry go rounds be solar powered? Solar power is even less expensive than child labor, cuz no one breaks a sweat (hahaha) bad joke aside... I agree with Jumoke. Link to NYTimes article http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9404E7DA1339F934A25751C0A96E9C8B63&scp=1&sq=taking%20play%20seriously&st=nyt

Naijachic said...

waoh, afrobeat what do u av going here? Very interesting deabte and view points...

My 1 cent is that Na, don't think this is child labour, not at all!

I haven't watched the video but from the post, i think the idea is quite innovative and rewarding not just to the kids but the parents who give them this task as well.

Of course, over-usage of ANYTHING is an abuse hence, I think we'll be going a bit extreme and slightly irrational to see this as child labour especailly if we understand the Nigerian/african culture and Psyche....

However, this is a very good discussion and I really appreciate what I have learnt by reading everyone's comments.

Lapa said...

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Kafo said...

hmmm
i am still thinking

Ms Sula said...

I do believe PlayPump was coming from a noble idea... Provide (lacking) kids with the opportunity to have (western- style) fun while saving their communities...

The idea is noble, the implementation needs to be carefully monitored. The possibility of derives and abuses are always inherent to every system, it's how they are handled upfront that matters.

So, no this is not child labour as it stands but it has the potential to turn into something else. It's good that the attention is brought upon so those questions and uneasiness can be dissected and answered beforehand.

I personally like the fact that it can become a very "egalitarian" tool where boys AND girls are "responsible" for it...

(By the way, why couldn't the class schedules be adjusted to suit the late girls arrival? Another case of things not being adapted to the communities they cater...)

Great post and debate!

Aspiring nigerian woman said...

I am sure that the idea is noble and the intentions are good, but I am very worried about the childen element of it being involved. Children should never be used as a form of labour... pumping water is labour, whatever way we look at it. Children should never be burdened with lack of water, food or clothes. It is down to the adults to bother about these things. I want to see a world that children in Africa have the same opportunities as children in developed countries.It is very patronising when western NGOs always seem to come up with intiatives that fall short of the same standards in the west. There is water shortage in Australia and some other western countries, but I don't see children being asked to pump water, whilst on the merry go round or collect snow, when building snow men!!!

Africa's problem is not unique to Africa, what about just replicating the same water technologies used in the west?

guerreiranigeriana said...

this thing with intentions and results...i have debates about the importance of forecasting all possible results of the best intentions because you just never know...same as this case...nice intention...time will tell what the result will be...

...isn't it similar to the local govt that goes into an area with no electricity and no malaria, with the best of intentions to bring them electricity...in the process, because they are using water as the power for the electricity, they must dam the river-standing water which attracts mosquitos-and now people have malaria and no meds...the intention was only to bring electricity but so too came malaria...should they not have done it?...

...it is good it is being discussed now to avoid such mishaps...great and thought provoking...

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