This week, U.S. Senator Mike Johanns introduced S. 14, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, legislation that would require physicians to tell women having an abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy that their “unborn child” is capable of feeling pain, and force the women to sign a statement agreeing that they understand that the fetus can feel pain. 18 cosponsors, all Republicans, have signed their names to the bill.
Perhaps it’s the appropriate thing to do to force people to confront the ethical consequences of their choices. Children feel pain, after all.
Of course, it’s not just unborn children who feel pain. Children who have already been born feel pain as well, and plenty of it. Children who are forced to engage in physical labor all day instead of being allowed to play or go to school, for example, feel pain, both in their bodies and in their minds.
The United Nations estimates that 158 million children are currently taken in by child labor operations. That’s one out of every six children alive today. They often work in dangerous environments, with abusive bosses, engaging in work that cripples their bodies.
We here in the United States enjoy the benefits of this child labor. It’s what enables us to buy things at low, low prices at discount stores such as Wal-Mart. It’s what gives us inexpensive produce at the grocery store. It’s what allows us to pick up a cheap chocolate bar at a convenience store. The products of child labor are pervasive in the U.S. marketplace.
Let’s focus on the problems in the chocolate industry as an example. This week the Payson Center for International Development released a report on the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa plantations of Africa. The report cites the Harkin-Engel Protocol, the current international agreement supported in the United States, which seeks to not to eliminate the “worst forms of child labor” in the chocolate industry, but only to reduce these terrible abuses over the next ten years or so.
The report describes the ongoing practice of trafficking children across international boundaries to bring them to cocoa plantations, where many end up carrying heavy loads, spraying poisonous substances, using dangerous tools that often result in serious injury, working alone and/or at night without access to education. The facts are plain: Much of the chocolate that Americans eat is the product of the suffering of children.
Have Mike Johanns and the 18 other Senate endorsers of S. 14 done anything about the chocolate child labor problem? Have they introduced legislation requiring sellers of chocolate to inform people that the production of the chocolate they’re buying produces pain and suffering in children? No, they haven’t.
Have they, for that matter, introduced legislation to stop the practice of corporal punishment of students in public school, seeking to control their behavior through the administration of pain? No.
Apparently, these senators only care about child pain when it takes place in a child who hasn’t been born yet. Once children are out of the womb, as far as the senators are concerned, the kids have to take care of themselves.