There’s a scene in “Stolen Childhoods,” directed by Len Morris, where a 9-year-old is picking coffee on a plantation in Kenya. On her back is her baby sister, wrapped and secure. She’s picking the green and rosy slightly oblong beans. The baby’s curiosity has her reaching for the bouncy beautiful beans like they are toys to be plucked from the air. At the same angle, one branch over, her sister is picking the beans for cash. Well, coin, to be exact, about 60 cents. Another child smiles when she says she bought a donut with her money. Is this the scene of utopian bliss and beauty?

No. It’s so shockingly about death and despair and by the time the camera is pulled back to see the whole story, we learn about some 250 million people — just a little less than the entire population of the U.S. — who get up every day and go to work. However, these people are children. They work backbreaking jobs and often don’t get paid.

Not one worker we meet on the screen is over 13 at the time they were interviewed. We see a 7-year-old in our country’s “anti-terrorist partner” of Pakistan who’s chained and crouched on his haunches for 13 hours per day, about 4 inches from the carpet he’s making that will destroy his eyes as quickly as the crouching will deform his body. The boy’s supervisor explains that only the defiant children are chained!

The film, narrated by Meryl Streep and including commentary by Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), takes us to Indonesia, Nepal, India, Brazil, Mexico and Texas. Yes, right here in the U.S. Smartly, the director has the children speaking for themselves, and shows models for solutions to the problems. The movie demands a call to action.

While the style might remind you of a Sally Struthers charity infomercial, the content tells us what we’d better wrestle with if our commonly held principle is that the children are the future. Because if we believe it, we’d better destroy the many-headed monster (including the World Bank, which is named in this film) that would steal the life out of 246 million children every single day.

Stolen Childhoods
Directed by Len Morris
Co-directed by Robin Romano
A production of Galen Films and Romano Productions
2004, 85 minutes, English language, U.S.A.
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