A human rights campaign? The campaign to abolish child slavery in Hong Kong 1919-1938

Samuels, H. 2007. A human rights campaign? The campaign to abolish child slavery in Hong Kong 1919-1938. Journal of Human Rights. 6 (3), pp. 361-384.

TitleA human rights campaign? The campaign to abolish child slavery in Hong Kong 1919-1938
AuthorsSamuels, H.
Abstract

This article re-examines the, well documented, campaign that took place, in the nineteen twenties and thirties, to eliminate the Chinese custom of keeping mui tsai in the British Crown colony of Hong Kong. Mui tsai were girls sold by their parents, to another family, to work as domestic servants. The girl was not paid wages, but the new family agreed to provide for all her needs. A suitable marriage was to be arranged when she became an adult. Many Chinese saw it as a philanthropic tradition but campaigners in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong viewed it as a form of child slavery. This study builds on the work of earlier scholars, but seeks to offer a different perspective, which focuses on the use of the emerging discourse of human rights. It argues that the tactics and ideology of the anti mui tsai activists exhibit many of the characteristics of a human rights campaign. This includes the attempt to use the emerging international law on slavery and child welfare, and the use of the committees of the League of Nations to hold governments to account. The activists engaged in human rights lobbying, and created trans-national networks where Hong Kong organisations worked with British groups, interested individuals and politicians to end the practice. The anti-mui tsai campaign illustrates many of the problems of using a human right methodology to challenge an allegedly oppressive cultural practice. It therefore provides an interesting lens through which to view the practical and theoretical problems of human rights.

JournalJournal of Human Rights
Journal citation6 (3), pp. 361-384
ISSN1475-4835
YearJul 2007
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/14754830701560764
Publication dates
PublishedJul 2007

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