Friday, May 14, 2010

Bali travels - Child labor on Amed beach

Her name is Wayan. I met her wandering the beaches in Amed, the Northern part of Bali famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling. If you've visited Bali you know the name is common, given there are only four first names in all of Bali.

She was the oldest (hence Wayan). She spoke good English. She was smart; shrewd even. Her story was good, and she was focused on selling her little boxes of salt. The hapless Australian pair who were sunbathing at the Cafe where we were, paid 50,000 Rupiah for a small wicker box of salt. She offered it to me for 10,000. Perhaps a good neighbour discount?

The conversation went something like this.
Me: How much did they pay for it?
Wayan: 50,000 Rupiah
Me: (with a smile) really?
Wayan: (with a catious smile) yes
Me:Who makes this?
Wayan: My mother makes the boxes. I did the shell design on the top. I collect the salt
Me: Do you go to school?
Wayan: Yes.
Me: Good
Wayan: I will give this to you for 10,000. Do you want to buy?

It made me smile. It was decent US rates. Roughly $1 for a wicker basket with sea salt in it. The Balinese price would be closer to $1000 rupiah. I didn't buy from her. After eating a sumptuous seafood meal at the Amed Restaurant, I saw a sign in broken English that was clearly for the benefit of the tourists.

It didn't shock me as such. After all, it is the same sentiment in India. We all feel very strongly that child labor should be abolished. Yet in different ways we have all made use of it, perhaps guiltily, because it suited us and improved our quality of life. From the perspective of those below the poverty line, living from hand to mouth, it was a matter of survival not morals or ethics. The notion of a child's quality of life was an unreachable sentiment to those parents.

I felt the familiar pangs of guilt as I walked the 600 yards back to the luxurious Kembali Beach Bungalow, a small resort run by a Dutch immigrant who now called Bali his home. I want to help, but I know that there is likely some 'bossman' who is collecting most of the profit the kids make. It's the same rackets as the streets of Mumbai.

I spoke to one of the workers there a little later. Ketut, who was a local, was starting to speak to me a little more. Now that we had been there for two days, I asked him questions about Amed and Bali in general, and about his life in particular. This topic was clearly close to his heart as he was quick to respond.

The signs he told me, were put up by the people that started the scuba diving shops on Amed beach. They were not local. They were Javanese, but not from Bali, and definitely not from Amed. Because of weather conditions, the sea faring folk could not make salt and sell it in quantity. So on a given day, if they do not catch any fish, they go hungry.

'How can they judge?' He asked me somewhat angrily. 'They don't provide employment for the adults. They underpay and take advantage. Then they put up signs that we should not buy from the children.'

I did not have an answer. Standing there in that picture perfect part of the world, I felt his sadness and helplessness.

I went home that day and hugged my little girl. It alleviated the heaviness in my heart about Wayan's prospects for the future.

The next day, we bought some beads from Wayan.


  1. It is good to have vacation and relax with your family here atseminyak Villas. Why not to try it guys, here at Bali where beautiful memories lies ahead.

  2. What do you know? I got my first spam! I should delete it probably but I think I'll leave it here, in the same way that people keep the first dollar they ever earned.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Bran. (Also, congrats on the spam ;) )