New Internationalist

All work and no play

Thanks to Worldwatch's latest State of the World report, I've been chewing over some weird and wonderful facts over the last few weeks. There's a certain satisfaction in memorizing such sound bites, to be dropped into conversation at opportune moments. The fact that 19 per cent of US babies have a TV in their bedroom may, or may not, be something to throw up our arms about in despair. Certainly the related fact, that US children now spend more time in front of the TV (40 hours a week) than taking part in any other activity outside of school, is something we can all tut about, although we may find ourselves wobbling off our high horses if we consider the amount of time our own children spend Wii-ing.

Hours spent in front of a TV or computer is clearly unhealthy for kids (and adults, for that matter). Without a doubt, the quality of many programmes is poor, and the endless advertising introduces children at an early age to a commercialized world from which they will never escape. The World Health Organization reports that marketing and advertising to children are a significant factor in the worldwide epidemic of childhood obesity; sitting in front of a screen all day only exacerbates this.

But those of us responsible for encouraging our own children to spend their downtime in healthy and enjoyable ways should remind ourselves how lucky they are even to have the choice between a Nintendo DS and a trampoline.

Play is an integral part of a child's development, and as such is a guaranteed right in the UN's 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by 194 countries although not, as it happens, by the United States). But according to Stop Child Labour, 1 in 7 children worldwide work (that's 218 million under-17s) and 22,000 of them die in work-related accidents every year. Some 122 million children are engaged in what the International Labour Organization refers to as 'the worst forms of child labour' - which includes hazardous work, bonded labour, sexual exploitation, armed conflict and drug trafficking.

Surely these are the figures that should be giving us pause for thought.

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