A video by a Northwestern journalism student has garnered national attention for its probing look at polarizing new legislation that allows Bolivian children as young as 10 to work, sometimes in harsh conditions.
“In Bolivia, Legitimizing Child Labor,” Mathias Meier’s long-form video, was featured prominently on The New York Times website.
In the film, some argue child labor is integral to Andean culture, where children have been working for generations; others condemn it as exploitation.
“In Bolivia, you see 6-year-old children marching in the streets, demanding their right to work,” said Meier, who earned a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in September.
“While most people living in the West think of exploitation and poor pay, there’s a feeling among some that if you put the issue in the open, you can avoid the abuse that happens in the dark.”
In Bolivia, where more than one million children perform some kind of labor, Meier discovered a passionate child worker’s union and critics to the new law.
Meier profiled child workers who contributed to their family’s welfare. The footage included young brick laborers in a town where hundreds of children work in dangerous conditions and an interview with an owner of the brickworks, who denied employing the children.
“The Bolivian government wants to legalize child labor under safe and fair conditions but, at the same time, is unable to supervise the well-being of these kids working in harsh conditions and not going to school,” Meier said.
Meier reported and edited from the Evanston campus but also received an international reporting grant to travel to Bolivia last May.
He edited the piece in his advanced video class with Northwestern journalism professor Craig Duff. It was nominated in the long-form category in the Chicago/Midwest NATAS (Emmys) Student Production Awards.
“This was a magnificent alchemy of a student applying his craft and talent to a story, coupled with the resources we were able to provide for him to travel and report there,” Duff said.
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