The average day for an American eight-year-old is likely to include video games and hours in front of a computer. Half a world away Hem Moktan and Sanita Lama led a different life: they worked illegally as carpet slaves, spending hours in Kathmandu rug factories making pennies a day. Hem and Sanita were fortunate enough to have been rescued from the looms by RugMark inspectors when they were twelve and ten respectively, placed in one of RugMark’s community-based rehabilitation centers, and later in school. Today, the teenagers, now 19, are high school graduates and in a position to help other children who have been enslaved by the carpet industry to reclaim their childhoods.
Established in 1994, RugMark works to end exploitive child labor in the carpet industry in South Asia through loom and factory monitoring, consumer labeling, and by offering education to former child weavers. The number of children enslaved on the looms has dropped from one million to 300,000 over the past decade.
Hem Moktan and Sanita Lama will be telling stories of their years as “carpet kids” to college students, carpet importers and retailers, the social investment community, donors and others, during an upcoming four-city tour in the U.S. Tour dates and locations are:
April 10 Boston
April 11-13 New York
April 15 Washington DC
April 16-17 Miami
“Hem and Sanita’s visit will allow hundreds of people in the U.S. to come face-to-face with an otherwise anonymous issue,” said Nina Smith, Executive Director, RugMark Foundation USA. “The gulf between children working illegally on carpet looms in South Asia and many of our own children here in the States is extreme and practically impossible to overcome. In some small way, this tour will help close the gap and build understanding.”
Hem and Sanita’s tour coincides with the 12th anniversary of the murder of Iqbal Masih, an indentured carpet weaver who ultimately became the spokesperson of the child labor movement. Iqbal’s devotion to the struggle of other child slaves after his own six years of grueling labor made him a hero in the global human rights community. Hem and Sanita will continue to carry the community’s message, helping to influence the U.S. market to demand child-labor-free rugs.
To that end, RugMark recently launched The Most Beautiful Rug, a national consumer awareness campaign designed to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, illegal child labor in the handmade rug industry. The campaign goal is to increase the market share of RugMark certified rugs from one percent to seven percent over three years. The certification program is integral to RugMark’s mission; it recruits carpet producers in India, Nepal and Pakistan to make rugs free of illegal child labor and recruits importers in Europe and North America to sell those child labor-free rugs. By agreeing to adhere to RugMark's strict no child labor guidelines, and by permitting random inspections of carpet looms, manufacturers receive the right to put the RugMark label on their carpets. The label offers the best possible assurance that children were not employed in the making of a rug. It also verifies that a portion of the carpet price is contributed to the rehabilitation and education of former child weavers.
Ultimately, RugMark hopes to achieve 15% market share by 2012, which according to RugMark estimates, is the tipping point to completely eliminate child labor from South Asia’s handmade rug industry. Over this period, every gained percentage point in market share will equate to a projected 750 children rescued from the workplace and 1,000 more who will be saved from entering the industry.
About RugMark: RugMark is an international nonprofit organization working to end exploitative child labor in the carpet industry and give educational opportunities to children in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The RugMark label offers the best assurance that no illegal child labor was used in the manufacture of a carpet or rug. For more information, please visit www.rugmark.org A list of importers and retailers that sell RugMark certified rugs is available at www.rugmark.org
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