by Lauren Allison and Marsha Rakestraw
In “Boys Without Names” by Kashmira Sheth (2010, grades 5-9, 305 pgs), Gopal’s family has hit hard times in their village in rural India. Good weather brought good crops, but that drove prices down, leaving his family unable to pay their bills. Gopal’s father took out loans, but the lender made it impossible for them to pay back their debt. Feeling trapped, Gopal’s father decides they must secretly leave for Mumbai to escape the debt and get help from Gopal’s uncle.
When in Mumbai, Gopal’s father disappears, so Gopal must get a job to help support his family. Gopal meets a young man on the street who offers him a job in a factory – and tea. When Gopal awakens from the drugged tea, he discovers that he has been kidnapped and sold to a man who uses boys in his sweatshop “factory” to make beaded picture frames.
Gopal meets five other boys, who are too terrified to even speak and are fed only enough to keep them alive and able to work. Though faced with nearly insurmountable odds, Gopal is determined to escape and reunite with his family. He uses his gift as a storyteller to connect with the boys and help them realize it’s possible to escape.
The boys will be forever changed by their harrowing experiences, but they will never forget the courage and camaraderie that saved their lives.
“Boys Without Names” is a useful resource for humane educators. While we’ve all heard stories about child labor, there is something powerful about experiencing it from the point of view of such young children. While the story is fiction, it’s based on real-world experiences.
This book would be an excellent book to pair with stories of activists such as Malala Yusafzai, Iqbal Masih, Craig Kielburger, and others who are fighting for the rights of children around the world. It offers a meaningful springboard for discussing issues of child labor, forced labor, and the economic and social conditions that lead to children being exploited. This book will open students’ eyes to some of the ways that children’s lives are remarkably different around the world.