End child labour

According to Unicef, in Pakistan, at least 3.3 million children are employed in child labour

By Editorial Board
June 12, 2024
A child carries clothes to sell to customers. — AFP/File

People in Pakistan are blissfully unaware of the plight of millions of children from poor and underprivileged backgrounds who are left on their own to fend for themselves. Had this not been the case, people should by now have taken to the streets, demanding leaders to do something to push the country’s children out of the vicious cycle of poverty and backbreaking labour. On June 12, the world observes World Day Against Child Labour – and yet continues to betray the children who are reliant on protection, love, and empathy. According to Unicef, in Pakistan, at least 3.3 million children are employed in child labour. This number is likely to be significantly lower than the actual figures. Many households employ children as domestic workers in clear violation of the law and keep them under miserable conditions. Every now and then, a bloodcurdling incident of a child being beaten to death by his/her employers surfaces on TV. The problem is not limited to Pakistan or the Subcontinent, but is also rampant in sweatshops in South-east and Far East Asia where countries produce tonnes of fast-fashion clothes to allow Instagram-addicted people in the developed world to make their new posts. It is also widespread in the minefields of Congo where children put their lives in danger to extract minerals required for new smartphone models and environmentally friendly electric vehicles.

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Children born in the developed world of the US are also not blessed enough. A 2023 ‘The NewYorker’ article says that child labour in America is on the rise. “The number of minors employed in violation of child-labour laws last year was up 37 per cent from the previous year, according to the Department of Labor, and up 283 per cent from 2015.” That we have failed our children is an understatement; we have crushed their spirits and deliberately kept them away from a world of learning and opportunities. As put by American biologist Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

The class divide has become more prominent now with well-off people snickering at poor parents with big families. Vloggers who go to a developing country for cheap vacations are often seen asking poor vendors ‘not to birth more children’ if they have no money. No one stops and thinks how they can contribute towards ensuring that no child is left behind. For Pakistan, there is still time. If authorities use technology the right way, they can educate their children and give them an option to leave the life of bonded labour behind. The edtech market is growing, and Pakistanis have shown interest in downloading apps based on learning. It is on authorities to tap into this potential and provide children with the education they need to move ahead in lives. Those who employ children should also be dealt with strictly so that the future of children is protected. It is not too late yet; it is now on the government to take the first step.

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