Children in Pakistan continue to be engaged in various forms of child labour at a very tender age, especially in large cities. It may not be much of a surprise then that Pakistan has been ranked third in the world with the highest prevalence of child and forced labour.
As far as the International Labour Organization (ILO) is concerned, the number of children working as labour reduced worldwide from 200 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2014. However, there is no evidence of any decline in child labourers in Pakistan. The ILO estimated in a 2012 survey that 12.5 million children are involved in child labour in Pakistan. But these statistics do not take into account those children who are involved in the informal sector. Most importantly, the country lacks a recent child labour survey, which is a sure sign of the government’s careless attitude towards the problem.
It is ironic that our governments have always ignored instances of children involved in labour, beggary, drug trafficking, prostitution, robbery, armed conflict and other illicit activities that affect the physical or emotional well-being of children. For example, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), from January 2010 to December 2014, 47 cases of torture on child domestic workers were reported, including 24 deaths.
According to Tahir Mehmood, a social welfare officer of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Karachi, “the illegal practice of employing children continues to make the lives of children a living hell.”
Forced by poverty many parents resort to offering their offspring for sale. The news of children being kidnapped in different parts of Pakistan has created panic among parents and children. Children are kidnapped for many reasons, including kidnapping for sale. After purchasing children illegally, buyers often force them into illicit activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution beggary and domestic labour.
We must also recognise the fact that cases of child labour often go unreported out of victims’ silence and dependence.
After passing laws and signing international conventions on promoting and protecting child rights, the government considers itself absolved of responsibility and has not focused on their implementation. For instance, to promote and protect child rights the Pakistani government has adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and ratified several ILO conventions besides ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.
Furthermore, under Article 11(2) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, all forms of forced labour, and trafficking human beings are prohibited. Sub-article (3) says: “employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory, mine and any other hazardous employment is prohibited.
And Article 25-A of the constitution guarantees free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5 and 16.
The government should at least realise the pain and suffering of our hapless children and try to protect them from getting caught up in working at such a young age. children from falling victim to the scourges of child labour. Just by signing these laws and ratifying these treaties the matter will not magically disappear.
It should be remembered that unless serious action is taken for the elimination of child labour and implementation of child labour laws, we will not see a decline in child labour can witness a decrease. We can learn from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who recently took strict action against brick-kiln workers in Punjab. There has been a huge unforeseen decline in the number of brick-kiln workers in Punjab; the entire credit for that goes to CM Shahbaz Sharif.
The huge reduction of child labour from the brick kilns of Punjab is a lesson that eradication of all forms of child labour is possible if serious efforts are made towards that. Child labour is rooted in poverty. The more we reduce poverty, the easier it will be to convince parents to stop forcing their children into labour at an age when they need to be studying at schools.
The writer is a Turbat-based freelance contributor.