Category Archive: News

9-Year-Old Child Worker Dies in Bangladeshi Textile Mill

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A supervisor at a textile mill was arrested after a 9-year-old worker died over the weekend, and the boy’s father accused the supervisor and others of killing him because he had protested against abuse.

Ismail Hossain, the officer in charge of the Rupganj police station in Narayanganj District in central Bangladesh, said that Nazmul Huda, an assistant administrative officer at the Zobeda Textile Mill, had been taken into custody for questioning, and that others would also be detained as the inquiry continued.

The father of the boy, Ratan Barman, 70, filed a complaint on Sunday with the Rupganj police, accusing supervisors at the mill of killing his son by pumping air from a compressor machine into his rectum.

The boy, Sagar Barman, had been working at the mill for seven months, along with his parents, his father said in a telephone interview on Monday.

“I thought, as we are poor, it will be helpful to run our family if my son Sagar can do some work in this factory,” Mr. Barman said. “I used to gather empty bobbins,” putting them into a trolley, he added. “My son also used to do the same work.”

Last year, a 12-year-old boy died in a similar manner at the motorcycle repair shop where he had worked. Though the official minimum working age is 14, child labor has long been widespread in Bangladesh, and the government does not keep records of workplace deaths or injuries involving children. But cases like Sagar’s capture the public’s attention.

Mr. Barman, in his police complaint, said he and his son had arrived at work at 6 a.m. on Sunday, as usual. Around noon, Sagar went to the compressor to clean dust from his body. Soon after, a female worker told Mr. Barman that Sagar was lying on the floor.

The father said he had rushed over and found his son unable to speak. The boy’s abdomen was swollen. Sagar was taken to a nearby hospital, then to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the complaint, the father accused four identified and four other unknown people at the mill of being involved in the boy’s death, including Mr. Huda.

According to the police complaint, Mr. Barman said those men and several other linemen and supervisors used to speak abusively to him and his son, and beat them when there were small mistakes in their work. He said that his son was killed because he had protested about the abuse.

The complaint accused the factory’s owners, Mozammel Haque Bhuiyan, Mazharul Islam Bhuiyan, Azharul Haque Bhuiyan and Zafar Hossain Bhuiyan, of using child laborers in their factory.

The factory owners and supervisors could not be reached for comment on Monday night.

Mr. Hossain said the police were still investigating how the air got into the boy’s body, and whether “air was pumped by someone else into his body through the rectum or air went into his body through his mouth when he was cleaning his body.”

He said the mill was established in 1985 and produced yarn from cotton, which was sold at local markets to make fabric.

About 3,000 workers are employed at the mill, an estimated 10 percent of them children. They were not recruited but were employed at the request of the adult employees who wanted “some light work” for their children to perform so that “they can earn some money for their family,” Mr. Hossain said.

The management hired the children as a “humanitarian” gesture, according to Mr. Hossain.

Sagar had earned 3,100 taka, or about $40 a month.

The air compressors were mostly used to clean dust from machines and accessories in the factory, Mr. Hossain said. But he said the boy and some other workers also used the compressors to clean themselves of factory dust.

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In Turkey, a Syrian Child ‘Has to Work to Survive’

Until now, Turkey has spent billions of dollars caring for Syrian refugees, providing them with free medical care and the right to an education. Yet more than 400,000 children are still unable to attend school because most of the Syrian families are living outside camps, mostly in poverty, and are struggling to secure work that pays enough to cover the basic necessities of food, clothing, rent and transportation, aid groups say.

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A Syrian child made shoe parts in Gaziantep last month. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

Other factors preventing children from attending school include language barriers, confusion over enrollment procedures and transportation-related issues, said Selin Unal, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee program in Turkey.

The Turkish government introduced work permits for Syrians in January to help stop exploitation in the labor market so that parents could earn enough to send their children to school. But only 10,300 Syrians have gained the right to work under the new regulation, according to the Ministry of Labor, mainly because Turkish employers have been reluctant to grant contracts that would require them to pay minimum wage.

Turkish officials have acknowledged the pitfalls of the labor laws and have vowed to increase the number of workplace inspections to help enforce the new regulations, which are aimed at providing higher incomes and cracking down on child labor.

Mrs. Suleiman, Ahmad’s mother, said she had not heard about the work permits and had recently had to quit her job washing dishes at a restaurant after her boss beat her when she complained that her $90 weekly pay was a month late.

Most of Ahmad’s $60 weekly wages go toward the $270 rent for the narrow room where he lives with his mother and three siblings in Istanbul’s low-income Tarlabasi neighborhood.

Six days a week, Ahmad leaves home at 8 a.m. and walks to a nearby textile factory where he spends his days buttoning shirts as sewing machines rattle in the background. He is given a 30-minute break at lunchtime and two 15-minute tea breaks with biscuits that he buys with his 80-cent daily allowance from his mother.

“I enjoy working, and I don’t get treated badly,” Ahmad said, smiling at a Kurdish colleague helping him attach tags to a rail of shirts. “I’ve got to take care of my family, and this is the only way to do that.”

But in Syria, Ahmad’s dream was to become a singer.

“I have a really good voice,” he said blushing. “I’m serious. I sing for my colleagues at work and they love it.”

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A refugee in a Gaziantep clothing factory. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

Yet when asked what his ideal job would be, Ahmad dropped his smile for a second. “A savior,” he said. “I want to save everyone from poverty, because I’m poor and I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through.”

To achieve that goal, Ahmad said, he knows he needs to go back to school. “It’s the only way to make more money,” he said.

The manager of the factory acknowledged that Ahmad was too young to be working and should be in school, but said he employed him not because Ahmad was cheap to hire, but because he wanted to help him.

Ahmad is the only child who works at the factory, but in the Zeytinburnu neighborhood, one of Istanbul’s textile hubs, child labor is rampant. In one workshop full of children, one 11-year old was embarrassed by my presence. Aware that his manager was watching, the boy looked away and focused on cutting fabrics and folding clothes.

Next to him was a sewing machine operator, Abdul Rahman, 15, who said he had no idea how much he was paid because his wages went directly to his family. Two Syrian brothers, Basar, 16, and Mohammed Nour, 15, swept the floor of the workshop. They came to Turkey alone from Aleppo to make money to send back to their family.

Together, they earn around $250 a month and send $200 back home. Unable to afford accommodations, they are allowed to sleep under the workshop benches at the factory, in makeshift beds made from a single blanket and fabric scraps.

Back in Tarlabasi, Ahmad’s mother has come up with a plan that will allow her to send her two younger children to school. She will marry off her 15-year-old daughter, Ayla, to a 22-year-old Kurdish man, whose family has offered to send her to school and help the family financially.

“This way at least the two youngest can also go to school, while Ahmad and I work,” she said.

When asked how she felt about getting married, Ayla looked at her painted fingernails and paused. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m not scared,” she said. “I’m happy, and I need to do this for the family.”

Mrs. Suleiman shot an anxious look at her daughter. “She doesn’t know anything yet. But what choice do we have? It’s our fate.”

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Indonesian Children Face Hazards on Tobacco Farms, Report Says

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Children working with tobacco leaves near Surabaya, Indonesia. Credit Marcus Bleasdale/Human Rights Watch, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Thousands of children working in Indonesia’s tobacco industry, one of the world’s largest, are being subjected to nicotine poisoning and exposed to pesticides, according to a report released Wednesday that called for establishing traceable supply chains to discourage the use of child labor.

The report, published by Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said that many Indonesian children working on tobacco farms, mostly on the country’s main island of Java, suffer from nausea, vomiting, headaches or dizziness, all of which can be signs that nicotine has seeped into the skin.

The children, who usually work without protective clothing, are also exposed to pesticides, and they face the additional hazards of doing heavy labor in extreme heat using sharp tools, the report from the rights group said.

“Kids are handling tobacco in their bare hands, and it can soak into the skin,” Margaret Wurth, a children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch and one of the report’s authors, said in an interview in Jakarta before its release.

The report, titled “The Harvest Is in My Blood,” calls on domestic and foreign tobacco companies that buy the crop to ban suppliers that employ underage children. Indonesia is trying to put its palm oil industry, the world’s largest, under similar scrutiny by ensuring that the oil is sold from sustainable sources that do not contribute to the destruction of rain forests. The government, major palm oil producers and industry associations have signed on to the effort, but it remains a work in progress.

Most Indonesian tobacco is sold on the open market, making it virtually impossible to determine where it was produced. Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest tobacco producer.

Agriculture, including small-scale, family-run farms, is the country’s largest industry. The International Labor Organization has estimated that more than 1.5 million Indonesian children do agricultural work.

Children between the ages of 13 and 15 are legally allowed to do “light work” on tobacco plantations during hours when school is not in session. But Human Rights Watch’s investigation, which covered planting and harvesting seasons across Java and the island of Lombok in 2014 and 2015, found that children as young as 8 were doing heavy labor, Ms. Wurth said.

Virtually all of Indonesia’s more than 500,000 tobacco farms are family-run operations on 2.5 acres of land or less, according to the report, which said that adult workers as well as children were engaging in risky practices. “There’s no meaningful training or health education,” Ms. Wurth said.

She said that most Indonesian children working in tobacco fields do not go to local health clinics when they become ill, making it difficult to determine whether the number who get sick is in the thousands or the tens of thousands. “We also don’t know what the long-term health impacts might be,” she said.

Human Rights Watch said it had shared its findings with 13 Indonesian and multinational tobacco companies operating here and that 10 had replied. None of the Indonesian companies gave a detailed response, and two did not respond to repeated inquiries, according to the rights group.

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Gridlocked Jakarta Becomes Even Worse, at Least for a Week

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Traffic during afternoon rush hour in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, last week. Credit Rony Zakaria for The New York Times

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Even on the best of days, it looks like an invasion, though a very slow one: Troops of motorbikes, like a disorganized cavalry, try to slice through enormous, honking lines of buses, trucks, private cars and taxis that are locked in a crawling war of attrition on sclerotic highways and roads.

The war zone extends to sidewalks, a convenient shortcut for impatient motorbike drivers, and pedestrians and food cart vendors disrupt the traffic flow even more by illegally crossing the thoroughfares.

The traffic tie-ups get especially hellish during the morning and evening rushes. That is true in most urban areas, but especially so in a city like Jakarta, which is at the center of a metropolitan area of 28 million people and whose population of 10 million swells by some three million every workday.

Asked to describe Jakarta’s traffic congestion in five words or fewer, Yoga Adiwinarto, the Indonesia director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York, needed only two: “Simply unmanageable.”

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Employees at the Transportation Ministry using a drone to survey the congestion last week, when a temporary suspension of the city’s three-in-one car-pool system took effect. Credit Rony Zakaria for The New York Times

So commuters received an unpleasant surprise last week when Jakarta’s popular governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, temporarily suspended the capital’s three-in-one system, which prohibits private vehicles with fewer than three passengers from taking major roads around the city center during the morning and evening rush hours.

As expected, the lines of vehicles, which extend to the horizon, moved even more sluggishly than usual, and the Indonesian news media called the experiment Carmageddon.

“It’s out of control,” Brigadier Reza, a traffic officer who, like many Indonesians, has only one name, said at a checkpoint on Jalan Gatot Subroto, the main east-west artery through Jakarta. “All cars are coming into this area, which was specially designated for three-in-one,” he added.

About two miles to the north on Jalan Sudirman, the city’s main thoroughfare, Rudi Ginting was equally frustrated as he steered his open-air bus through Jakarta’s business district. Mr. Rudi, 53, who has been driving his route since 1985, said the additional vehicles had reduced the number of morning runs by a third, cutting into his earnings.

“It’s a lot different today,” he said, puffing on a cigarette between honks of his horn. “The number of cars exploded.”

In late March, Mr. Basuki announced the temporary suspension of the three-in-one policy, running a week from last Tuesday, amid questions about its effectiveness — but chiefly, he said, because it was contributing to the exploitation of children.

The restriction, which dates to the late 1990s, quickly spawned an industry of industrious car jockeys who stand alongside roads leading into the restricted thoroughfares, offering lone motorists extra passengers in return for money, usually about 15,000 rupiah (a little more than $1) and up to 25,000 rupiah, depending on the distance.

The jockeys, however, include boys and girls working alone, as well as mothers with infants.

In late March, the Jakarta police broke up a begging ring that enlisted children as panhandlers and rented out infants drugged with sedatives to adult beggars.

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Construction for a transit line in Jakarta, Indonesia, which is not expected to open before the end of the decade. Credit Rony Zakaria for The New York Times

Attention quickly focused on the car jockeys, given the number of children and infants who are passengers for hire.

“The problem is that the parents take advantage of the children so that they can make some money to buy cellphones or hang out in shopping malls,” Mr. Basuki told journalists late last month as he announced his plan. “That is not right.”

Yet transportation experts blame the city’s administration and police force for not cracking down on the jockeys, who number in the thousands and have undermined the three-in-one system’s effectiveness. An average jockey can earn the equivalent of $10 to $15 a day on weekdays, far more than the $2 a day or less that 100 million Indonesians live on.

The traffic patterns in Jakarta are a legacy of the 1960s, when Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, dismantled the Dutch colonial-era trolley system and paved over the tracks with asphalt.

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Afternoon rush hour in Jakarta. More than 10 million motor vehicles roam the city each workday, even though roads and highways constitute less than 10 percent of its total land area. Credit Rony Zakaria for The New York Times

The city then made a rapid advance southward, sucking in villages with dirt roads and rice paddies. Within a generation, some of those rural hamlets had been transformed into a new city center lined with soaring office towers.

More than 10 million motor vehicles roam Jakarta each workday, even though roads and highways constitute less than 10 percent of its total land area, which analysts say is far from adequate.

“The pressure of development was so great, but the planning instruments that existed didn’t support that,” said Mohammad Danisworo of the Center for Urban Design Studies in Bandung, West Java Province, who was an adviser to five Jakarta governors.

“City planning could never face that pressure,” he said. “It was done by trial and error.”

Jakarta is one of the world’s few major cities without a rapid-transportation system, and unlike, say, New York, which also began as a Dutch settlement, it does not have a street grid.

While a train line from Jalan Sudirman in the city center to South Jakarta is under construction, it is not expected to begin operating before the end of the decade. Mr. Basuki’s administration has proposed an electronic road-pricing system, similar to those in London and Singapore, but does not have the legal authority to put it in place.

Mr. Basuki, who became the governor in 2014 when his predecessor, Joko Widodo, ascended to the presidency, said the traffic policies would be evaluated once the experiment ends on Tuesday.

Jimmy Kaadoan, a busker who performs on open-air buses, said he would support doing away with the three-in-one rule. “The jockeys are using kids,” he said. “The government has to come up with another solution.”

Mr. Rudi, the bus driver, hopes the government keeps the system and arrests “the jockeys and the owners of the cars who use them.”

Past attempts to crack down on the jockeys have failed, and calls by the city’s police to reduce the number of cars on the roads by using an odd-even system based on license plate numbers have been dismissed by local politicians fearing the wrath of voters.

All of this is of little comfort to Fitri Amailia, a 40-year-old agent with a building contractor whose normal commute to Jakarta from her home in Bogor, a bedroom community in West Java Province, by commuter train and bus takes her two and a half hours each way.

She said that trip took an additional 30 minutes last week because of the suspension of the high-occupancy vehicle rule.

“It’s the same either way — a mess,” she said. “There are too many private cars in Jakarta.”

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For a Child Actor, the Tears Didn’t Come Until It Was Too Late

For one brief moment I considered running back to the soundstage, but the rules-obeying Hunter nerd in me felt it was a breach of propriety. Instead, I went into my trailer and howled into my elbow. My mother came in and said, “I thought you were great!”

“But I couldn’t cry!” I cried.

The role went to Alyson Hannigan, who would later go on to international fame for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “American Pie” and “How I Met Your Mother.” As much as it hurt telling my parents that I didn’t get the part, I felt the worst when I told my math teacher, who said, “I’m sure you would have been the best.”

I had become inspired to be a professional actress after doing some unpaid community theater near our apartment in Brooklyn Heights and being bitten by the proverbial bug. Then a friend of my parents told us that the experimental theater club La MaMa was casting children for a new play. I auditioned in a gritty downtown loft space and found out a few days later that I had gotten the part. As I recall, the play involved gunshots, a man with a crow’s tail and an original rock score.

My salary was about a thousand dollars for the run and I had to join Actors’ Equity. When I got the card in the mail, I felt I was on the way to becoming a professional. My parents had to open a special account that prevented them from stealing my earnings — because of child-labor protection laws that passed after Jackie “The Kid” Coogan turned 21 and realized that he didn’t have any money left. He sued his mother and former manager for his earnings, and in 1939 the Coogan Law was born; it has since been revised to provide better protection.

Because my entry into child labor was unionized, I never felt mistreated. Equity set rehearsal breaks, meal breaks and the minimum turnover time between rehearsals. Our union liaison, or “equity deputy,” was a male cast member who played a heavyset housewife wielding a rolling pin. After I told him I was terrified of the loud sound of the blanks, we worked out a routine backstage in which I would plug my ears while he enveloped me in a bear hug. It did not occur to me that being hugged by a guy in drag in the midst of an onstage gun duel was not an ordinary 12-year-old’s experience.

A few months after the La MaMa play, I got an agent and landed a part in a show about an Irish Catholic girl in 1960s Boston who has a dysfunctional relationship with her mother. We did South Boston accents and said “Jesus H. Christ” a lot. During that show’s run, I began training for my bat mitzvah. One night in the dressing room, about an hour before the places call, I inserted my Torah portion tape into my Walkman, put on headphones and began chanting aloud in Hebrew. My 40-something co-star Marylouise Burke tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Honey, it’s very pretty, but it’s a little distracting right before we go on.” My cheeks flushed with shame, and I never brought the tape to the theater again.

Because my father was the Mama Rose of stage dads, he fetched me from late-night rehearsals and shows to make sure I was safe. It didn’t always help. One night, around 11, as we waited for a No. 1 train at Canal Street, he was mugged before my eyes by a man who said he had a gun in his pocket. My dad still came to pick me up the next night, but we walked to a different stop. To be a stage parent in New York in the ’80s was to put your life on the line.

While balancing my acting career with Hunter, I often felt as if I was in two worlds. I did homework during rehearsals and handed in pages that smelled like cigarettes. I learned that actors can’t help with math (some have dropped out of high school), but they can help you with your Miller or O’Neill.

Because I had a hobby unusual among Hunter students, I felt insulated from academic pressure. If I scored badly on an exam because I’d gotten home at midnight after a performance, I reasoned that the trade-off was worth it. Friends came to see me in strange plays and said, “You were amazing, but what was it about?”

Over the years since the “My Stepmother Is an Alien” screen test, I told myself that I didn’t get the part because I didn’t actually want it. I didn’t want to be a child star; I wanted to be a theater actor in New York, a far worthier goal.

My experiences taught me to be adaptable, take criticism and accept that sometimes there are more people onstage than in the audience. They also made me a lifelong theater fan. And they probably turned me into a writer, because I was in a world where the playwright, and not the director, was God, and you delivered lines as written.

But a quarter of a century later, do I wish I had gone back to that Columbia soundstage, hot tears rolling off my chin, and said, “Mr. Benjamin, can I just do one more take?” Every single day.

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A Guardian Is Accused of Holding 2 Teenagers Captive in Queens for Years

She was regularly missing from her classes at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, and when she was there, teachers would catch the girl, a 16-year-old from South Korea, nodding off during lessons.

But it was not until last week, when an assistant principal noticed her bruises, that the school and law enforcement officials discovered why. Prosecutors in Queens said on Tuesday that the girl and her 14-year-old brother, who had been sent to the United States to attend school, had been held captive for six years.

The woman who had been their guardian, Sook Yeong Park, forced the siblings to work both in and outside the home, cut off their contact with their parents and had them sleep on the floor, officials said.

She was charged with labor trafficking, third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Ms. Park, 42, was arraigned on Saturday and released on $10,000 bond.

Last Thursday, after the girl’s bruises were noticed, the siblings told school officials about the abuse, and the police were alerted. The assistant principal, who was not named, went to Ms. Park’s home in Flushing to demand that she return the children’s passports.

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Dimitria Ayfantis, a neighbor of Sook Yeong Park, who faces labor trafficking charges. Credit Uli Seit for The New York Times

On Saturday the assistant principal went to the grocery store where they worked to collect their pay. Ms. Park is accused of keeping their previous earnings.

Dennis J. Ring, Ms. Park’s lawyer, said the authorities were rushing to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Park, even though “significant cultural barriers” complicated the case. He said in a statement that prosecutors opted to rely on the “uncorroborated statement of a 16-year-old who doesn’t like the parenting choices of her legally adoptive mother.”

“That does not add up to a crime,” he said.

Prosecutors said the children had gone years without speaking to their family members in South Korea.

The girl slept in a small closet, with just a blanket, and the boy slept on a bathroom floor, prosecutors said. Ms. Park is accused of hitting and slapping the children, and stepping on their legs and kicking them when they did not obey her orders.

The girl worked for several hours after school almost every day, sometimes laboring away on household chores until 2 a.m., prosecutors said. The girl had to give Ms. Park manicures and pedicures and massage her back and feet; prosecutors said she recalled once massaging Ms. Park for five hours while Ms. Park watched television.

On the street in Flushing where Ms. Park lived in a small brick house, neighbors recalled seeing the children walking to school or doing their chores. There were unusual signs: They would see a child rummaging through neighbors’ trash cans searching for recyclables, out in the cold without warm clothes.

Dimitria Ayfantis, a neighbor, said the boy once asked her if she needed help around the house. She paid him $10 to shovel snow in the driveway.

Ms. Ayfantis also remembered one episode in which Ms. Park got into a dispute with a neighbor over a parking spot and she could hear Ms. Park yelling and kicking the neighbor’s car.

“This lady, you could see it in her face that she wasn’t good,” Ms. Ayfantis, 56, said. “She was ready to fight.”

Last month, another neighbor, Ria Pallas, said her husband ran into the girl, who had dyed her hair a shade of orange, on the street after midnight while he walked the dog. The girl, not wearing a coat, stopped to pet the puppy and told him she was 18 and working in New Jersey, Ms. Pallas said.

As unusual as the run-in was, Ms. Pallas said, she never suspected the kind of abuse described by the authorities. “They were never dirty, or disheveled,” Ms. Pallas, 45, said. She paused, adding, “But there was always just something off.”

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When a Doorman Is Underage

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Credit Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times




realestateqa@nytimes.com.

Double Shift for a Teenager

The condominium in which I rent an apartment employs a 16-year-old doorman. He recently worked a double shift on a Sunday, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., which violates state child labor laws. I find myself in an ethical quandary. Isn’t the condo open to prosecution for breaking child labor laws? Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules so he is not exploited? At the same time, what if he is the only wage earner in his family? Any thoughts on what to do?

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Child labor laws, many of which were enacted at the start of the last century, were designed to protect children from being exploited, even if their families needed the money. Children may no longer toil under the poor conditions that led to the sweeping changes, but the laws remain relevant.

At 16, the doorman is considered a school-age child — New York City does not allow teenagers to quit school until 17. So, he should not work a double shift until 11 p.m. on a school night, and the manager that scheduled him should know this. (Even when school is out of session, 16-year-olds are generally not allowed to work more than an eight-hour shift, according to state labor laws.)

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Submit your questions, share your stories and tell us what topics interest you most. Post a comment or email us at realestateqa@nytimes.com.

“Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules?” said Walker G. Harman Jr., a Manhattan labor lawyer. “Morally, I say yes. Absolutely.”

The condo is also exposing itself to considerable risk. In violating these laws, which limit how many hours a child can work and under what conditions, the building could get sued, investigated by the New York State Department of Labor or fined. Condo unit owners could end up shouldering legal fees and fines the building incurs, potentially leading to an assessment or an increase in common charges.

The young doorman’s family might depend on his income, as you suggested, but that does not give the building the right to flout laws that were designed to protect the welfare of children. If the building complies with the rules, the teenager would still be able to work, just not under conditions that compromise his ability to get an education.

You could start by speaking with the doorman directly. He might not know his rights — or that he cannot be fired for demanding that his employer follow the law. You should also tell the managing agent and the board in writing that labor laws are being violated.

“Say: ‘We love this kid, we don’t want him to leave, but he’s being taken advantage of,’ ” said Steven D. Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “Somebody’s got to know what’s going on. It could turn out to be a big deal.”

If no one heeds your warnings, you could file a report with the Labor Department, leading to an investigation of the building. But if you take that step, be aware of the risks. As a whistle-blowing renter, you could be in a particularly vulnerable position. “There could be retribution or retaliation for exposing a building’s illegal conduct,” Mr. Harman said.

Instead, you might want to reach out to neighbors to see if they, too, would send letters demanding that the building comply with the law.

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Wandering Vines

About 20 years ago, our co-op gave a neighboring co-op permission to attach cables to the side of our building to support ivy that is growing up our building but has roots on the neighboring property. For years, our neighbors maintained the vines. But in recent years, they stopped. Now the Boston ivy has grown into a heavy and unwieldy mess bound to cables wrapped around our chimney. We are increasingly concerned about structural damage to our building. We would like to cut down the plants, but our neighbors want to keep them — and have not responded to our repeated requests that they maintain them. Do we have the authority to remove them?

Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan

Boston ivy scales walls and can potentially damage a building, particularly one with bricks that are weak or in disrepair. It is an “aggressive climber with aerial roots that cling to a building,” said Todd Haiman, a New York City landscape designer, who recommends “that vines be pruned annually to keep them attractive, healthy and in bounds.” Because regular pruning has not happened, you have good reason for concern. If the agreement was made in writing, your co-op should consult with its corporate counsel about how to proceed. But if the agreement was verbal, which is likely, then it can be revoked, according to Peter I. Livingston, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Your co-op board should request that the neighboring building remove the cable and the vines from the building because they are damaging your property. If the neighbor does not do the work in a reasonable period of time, then your building should remove the foliage on your property. Your co-op would likely pay for the work.

Be prepared for potential resistance. The residents next door might have a strong attachment to the ivy and try to save the plants once they realize their fate. “Ivy is a bit of a lightning rod,” Mr. Haiman said. “It’s culturally significant and aesthetically pleasing to some, an invasive weed and maintenance issue to others.”

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Unresponsive Management

What is one to do when the management company is completely unresponsive? I find it quite irritating, especially since we (co-op shareholders) pay a monthly maintenance fee, some of which presumably goes to the company.

Upper West Side, Manhattan

The managing agent is hired by the co-op, and as a shareholder, you pay for that service. In theory, you should be treated as a paying client. “If the managing agent is not responding to your requests, then the managing agent is not properly performing its duties,” said Lawrence Chaifetz, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

If the service is not up to par, make a list of recent grievances, with as much detail as possible, and send it to the president of the co-op board. Ideally, see if other residents might do the same. Request that the board compel the managing agent to improve its service. If the problems continue, the board should find a new managing agent when the contract expires.

If the board ignores your complaints, you could theoretically sue the co-op for failing to provide services, but that would be a difficult and expensive road to take, according to Mr. Chaifetz. Instead, you might want to attempt to replace unresponsive board members at the next board election so you can effectively address the management issues.

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Young Hands in Mexico Feed Growing U.S. Demand for Heroin

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A woman with a child worked in a poppy field in Guerrero State in Mexico. As American heroin use has risen sharply, so has opium production south of the border. Credit Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

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EL CALVARIO, Mexico — With her nimble hands, tiny feet and low center of gravity, Angelica Guerrero Ortega makes an excellent opium harvester.

Deployed along the Sierra Madre del Sur, where a record poppy crop covers the mountainsides in strokes of green, pink and purple, she navigates the inclines with the deftness of a ballerina.

Though shy, she perks up when describing her craft: the delicate slits to the bulb, the patient scraping of the gum, earning in one day more than her parents do in a week.

That she is only 15 is not so important for the people of her tiny mountain hamlet. If she and her classmates miss school for the harvest, so be it. In a landscape of fallow opportunities, income outweighs education.

“It is the best option for us,” Angelica said, leaning against a wood-plank house in her village, where nearly all of the children work the fields. “Back down in the city, there is nothing for us, no opportunities.”

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Las manos de muchos jóvenes mexicanos alimentan la demanda de heroína en Estados Unidos

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Una mujer trabaja con su hijo a cuestas en un campo de amapola en el estado mexicano de Guerrero. Credit Rodrigo Cruz para The New York Times

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EL CALVARIO, México — Sus diestras manos, pies pequeños y poca altura convierten a Angélica Guerrero Ortega en la recolectora de opio perfecta.

Trabaja a lo largo de la Sierra Madre del Sur donde los vastos cultivos de amapolas cubren las laderas de las montañas. Entre pinceladas de verde, rosa y púrpura, ella se mueve con la gracia de una bailarina por las pendientes.

Aunque es tímida, describe su oficio con buen ánimo. Habla en detalle sobre las delicadas hendiduras en el bulbo y el paciente raspado de la goma, técnicas con las que gana en un día más que sus padres en toda una semana.

Que sólo tenga 15 años no importa para las personas que habitan ese pequeño caserío en la montaña. Si ella y sus compañeros de escuela faltan un día a clases debido a la cosecha, tampoco representa un problema. En un ecosistema laboral de pocas oportunidades, el ingreso pesa más que la educación.

“Es la mejor opción para nosotros. Allá abajo, en la ciudad, no hay nada para nosotros. Ninguna oportunidad”, comenta Angélica, recargada sobre una casa de madera en su pueblo, donde casi la mitad de los niños trabaja en el campo, agrega.

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Angélica Guerrero Ortega, de 15 años, con su hermano en el poblado de El Calvario. Angélica forma parte de los jóvenes que cosechan opio en  las laderas montañosas. Credit Rodrigo Cruz para The New York Times

Como la adicción a la heroína se ha disparado en Estados Unidos, al sur de la frontera es un negocio en expansión, que refleja la problemática simbiosis entre ambas naciones. Funcionarios de los dos países señalan que la producción de opio mexicano aumentó aproximadamente un 50 por ciento tan sólo en 2014, como resultado de la letal combinación entre el voraz apetito estadounidense, los campesinos empobrecidos en México y los emprendedores carteles de la droga que se extienden a ambos lados de la frontera.

Los adictos a los medicamentos controlados en Estados Unidos están buscando drogas más baratas, ya que las medidas contra el consumo de analgésicos han hecho que el costo del hábito sea muy elevado. Asimismo, la legalización de la marihuana en algunos estados ha reducido los precios, lo que lleva a los campesinos mexicanos a cambiar de cultivos.

Entretanto, los carteles se han adaptado. Incursionan lentamente en los mercados estadounidenses que estaban reservados para la heroína de mejor calidad, proveniente del sudeste asiático. Además comienzan a salir de los centros urbanos para llegar a los suburbios y comunidades rurales.

“Los carteles conocen muy bien cómo es la demanda en Estados Unidos”, señaló Jack Riley, subdirector de la Oficina para el Control de Drogas de los Estados Unidos (DEA). “Entienden el problema que tenemos con los medicamentos controlados. Esa es una de las principales razones por las que estamos viendo el crecimiento en la producción de amapola”, agregó el funcionario.

Los resultados de esta problemática sacudieron a ambos países. En Estados Unidos, donde las muertes por sobredosis de heroína aumentaron 175 por ciento entre 2010 y 2014, los políticos y agentes antidrogas están tratando de responder a toda prisa. En México, donde la violencia entre carteles ha crecido en todo el país, ocasionando la muerte y desaparición de miles, el gobierno informa que erradicó una cifra récord de hectáreas de cultivos de amapola en 2014.

Los efectos de esta demanda no se ven en ningún otro lugar como en Guerrero, el estado con mayor violencia del país, donde los carteles rivales están inmersos en una sangrienta guerra por competencia y las desapariciones silenciosas han paralizado la región. Aquí los campesinos optan, cada vez más, por el cultivo de la amapola, ocultando la resistente cosecha en las laderas de montañas remotas.

A duras penas buscan subsistir en lugares como El Calvario donde, como la mayoría de las personas saben, el gobierno es casi inexistente. Los niños participan en la cosecha, por necesidad y conveniencia, con el fin de satisfacer la creciente demanda. Para la mayoría el dinero es demasiado valioso como para ignorarlo, y el terreno difícil es más manejable para aquellos de menor peso y estatura.

El gobernador de Guerrero hace poco comparó a su estado con Afganistán, el productor de opio más grande del mundo. “Estamos casi en la misma situación, aunque sólo somos un estado y ellos son un país”, expresó el Gobernador Rogelio Ortega Martínez, cuyo estado vive el mayor aumento en la producción de opio a nivel nacional.

Pero a diferencia de Afganistán, un país que lucha con más de tres décadas de conflicto, Guerrero no es una zona de guerra sin cuartel. La capital del estado tiene un Burger King y un McDonald’s. También es la región donde se encuentran las famosas playas y hoteles de Acapulco.

Sin embargo, un lugar donde niños como Angélica escalan laderas escarpadas para punzar amapolas y recolectar la goma café del opio, sí presenta una escalofriante similitud con Afganistán. En ambos parajes, el casi inexistente Estado permite que la industria de las drogas florezca.

“No es la producción de droga lo que genera el subdesarrollo”, explicó Antonio Mazzitelli, director de la Oficina de Naciones Unidas contra las Drogas y el Delito en México. “Es la falta de desarrollo lo que genera el cultivo de opio”.

O, como lo dijo un campesino en El Calvario: “Aquí no hay ley. Nos gobiernan los narcos”. Tampoco es que a muchos pobladores les preocupe — o incluso conozcan — el debate más amplio sobre el narcotráfico. Para los campesinos cultivar opio no es tan nocivo. Aquí nadie consume drogas, ni la heroína ni sus derivados, y el pago por la jornada de trabajo en el campo de amapola supera varias veces lo que se paga por cosechar maíz.

El aislamiento genera un cierto desapego. Calvario, aunque sólo está a unos cuantos kilómetros de la capital del estado, es un poblado abandonado al que se llega tras pasar una hora en auto subiendo un camino serpenteante de tierra entre la montaña, bordeado por peñascos y surcos. En el pueblo de unos 100 habitantes, hay un conocimiento limitado del mundo exterior. Algunos campesinos ni siquiera saben para qué sirve el opio.

José Luis García, un vecino de la zona que renta su tierra para el cultivo de opio, preguntó más de una vez qué tenían las amapolas que volvían locos a los estadounidenses. Después de escuchar sobre la epidemia de la adicción en Estados Unidos, García hizo una pausa por un momento para reflexionar sobre la ética de cultivar amapolas: “La culpa no es de los que cultivan el opio”, dijo, “es de los idiotas que lo consumen”.

Durante años, México sólo había sido una ruta de transporte de la droga con destino a Estados Unidos. Además de la amapola, los carteles cultivan marihuana y producen metanfetaminas, ejemplos clásicos de los lazos que vinculan a ambas naciones y que los estudiantes de negocios pueden encontrar en sus casos de estudio. Los carteles pueden quedarse con la mayoría de las ganancias del cultivo y la distribución.

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La casa de José Luis García, un campesino de El Calvario que renta su tierra para el cultivo del opio. Credit Rodrigo Cruz para The New York Times

Para los campesinos que viven en el remoto poblado de El Calvario, el cultivo del opio tiene una cierta lógica. Es una planta resistente, con dos estaciones de cultivo que producen una cosecha modesta en el verano y otra más abundante en el invierno. La venta de su producto en el mercado también es sencilla: los traficantes van hasta donde ellos están, conduciendo sus llamativas camionetas hasta las cercanías del pueblo para comprarle directamente a los campesinos.

Los pobladores y funcionarios señalan que la comercialización está bajo el control del cartel de Sinaloa, el grupo dedicado al narcotráfico más sofisticado y organizado de México. Esta organización delictiva está encabezada por Joaquín Guzmán Loera, mejor conocido como El Chapo.

Su regreso a los escenarios de las drogas es bien visto en las montañas de Guerrero. “Va a traer más dinero a la zona”, dijo García, “va a facilitar las cosas”. En el contexto actual, no es nada sencillo cultivar amapola en esta región mexicana, ubicada a más de 3.048 metros de altura sobre el nivel del mar. Tal vez el signo más tangible de la presencia del gobierno en Calvario sean las distancias a las que los campesinos tienen que ir para ocultar sus cultivos de opio.

Para llegar a las tierras de García, fue necesario viajar durante una hora por un camino lleno de curvas y obstáculos a bordo de un automóvil todo terreno hasta los remotos pliegues de la Sierra Madre del Sur.

Ahí, un mosaico de color cubre una vasta ladera de tallos color esmeralda salpicados de flores blancas, rosas y púrpuras. El siseo de un rociador automático corta el aire, mientras los chorros de agua bañan la pendiente escarpada. Los troncos secos y oscurecidos son un signo de tala reciente para abrirse paso hasta el campo.

La tierra inclinada y lodosa dificulta estar de pie por lo que en muchas ocasiones, los adultos caen cuesta abajo y sufren lesiones, según cuentan los pobladores. Ahí es donde los niños hacen su aparición: su ligereza y tamaño es una ventaja a la hora de cosechar.

A los pequeños no parece importarles. Varios dijeron que el opio era como cualquier otro cultivo que sus padres les mandan a recolectar. Sólo que paga mejor. “No hay muchas oportunidades de ganar dinero”, comentó Arturo Guerrero, de 13 años, sentado junto a sus dos primos. “No podemos ayudar a mantener a nuestras familias si no trabajamos”, aseveró.

La necesidad de trabajo es primordial. Por ese motivo, Arturo y su primo Agustín, de 17 años, abandonaron la escuela el año pasado. Para poder ir a la preparatoria, los estudiantes del Calvario deben vivir en la ciudad vecina de Mazatlán, porque no hay transporte diario.

El gasto, en combinación con la pérdida de sus salarios, es demasiado para sus padres. Los chicos decidieron dejar la escuela y regresar a su casa para trabajar en el campo. “Ya no podíamos ir y venir del campo y además ir a la escuela”, contó Agustín.

Los muchachos hablan de la decisión sin hacer aspavientos, ni mostrar autocompasión. Tienen sueños, por supuesto. Si pudieran elegir qué estudiar, se enlistarían en el ejército, dicen, de nuevo recurriendo al brutal cálculo de la pobreza.

“Cualquier otra profesión requeriría tiempo, preparación y dinero”, dijo Angélica, y añadió que ser soldado es “la forma más fácil y rápida de ganar dinero para ayudar a mi familia”.

Pero la aspiración también tiene que ver con una cuestión de exposición. Han visto a los soldados. El Ejército Mexicano se aparece una vez al año en El Calvario para llevar a cabo las campañas de erradicación, lo que explica por qué los pobladores optan por sembrar sus cultivos en zonas tan remotas.

Aunque parecieran estar atrapados en lados opuestos, los pobladores y soldados se respetan entre sí. Los militares no los molestan, dicen los campesinos, aun cuando sospechen que cultivan opio. La gente de la zona, a su vez, comparte su agua con las tropas que acampan a las afueras del poblado.

Fue en este contexto que los niños se encontraron por primera vez con los soldados. Por un momento los jóvenes del pueblo mostraron su edad cuando describieron cómo, además de un buen salario, la idea de volar en helicópteros, aviones y portar armas de grueso calibre sonaba divertida.

Pero no paso mucho antes de que le pusieran fin a la charla frívola. “De haber podido seguir estudiando, me habría gustado ser soldado”, dijo Arturo, “pero eso ya no es posible”.

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Feeding Syrian Children

To the Editor:

Cuts in food aid are leading Syrian refugees to take desperate measures (“Child Labor Rises Sharply in Syria Unrest,” news article, July 2).

This is a terrible situation for Syrian children to be forced to beg and work just to get a meal. But we can do something about it.

After World War II, Gens. Douglas MacArthur and Lucius Clay set up school feeding for millions of children in Japan and Germany, respectively. These meals saved a whole generation of children. The school feeding gives children nutrition, but it also gets them in school and learning. It gets them away from child labor.

The United Nations World Food Program has some limited school feeding for Syrian refugee children, but it needs a big expansion in funding and support.

The United States and the international community should help put the school meals in place immediately for the rehabilitation of Syrian children. Until we can find an end to this war, we must feed child war victims.

WILLIAM LAMBERS

Cincinnati

The writer partnered with the World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.”

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