World Day Against Child Labour is celebrated every year on 12th June. This week You! highlights the plight of child labour in Pakistan...
The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the ‘World Day Against Child Labour’ in 2002 to focus on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Each year on 12 June, the Day brings together governments, employers and workers organisations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to emphasise on the issue of child labourers and what can be done to help them.
This year the theme is ‘Children shouldn’t work in fields, but on dreams!’ Unfortunately today, 152 million children are still work as labourers. Although child labour occurs in almost every sector, seven out of every ten is in agriculture.
When you hear the term ‘farm worker’, what image comes to mind? The stereotype of a farm worker is usually an adult male. In actuality, however, many children and teens work as hired farm labourers in fields in most of the countries. Since Pakistan is chiefly an agricultural state, the vast fields incorporate hundreds and thousands of children who put in their sweat and blood to earn a livelihood for their families.
Farm work is hard work, and it is often done in extreme conditions. In addition to inadequate labour laws, children working in agriculture face exposure to dangerous weather conditions, equipment, and pesticides.
In terms of equipment, using tools designed for the muscle power of an adult can have dangerous consequences. Often times, children operate heavy equipment unsupervised and without adequate training beforehand. Like other farm workers, children experience heat-related conditions from intense sun exposure. This includes heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration, and even death. At a young age, they may also be less aware of their body’s functions, and thus less able to recognise these conditions when they are occurring. In addition to the physical strains of farm labour, it’s important to also recognise the psychological and emotional strain that agricultural work can have on children. In a job that is inherently unstable, some children are left to cope by themselves as they follow the harvest to earn as much as they can. In Pakistan, 38.8 per cent of the population is living in poverty, with one in four individuals living in acute poverty. For many citizens in Pakistan, it is hard to find a job or to secure one paying enough to provide for a family. Students from impoverished backgrounds who are unable to enter school are most likely to become child labourers.
It’s so unfortunate that more than 12.5 million children are involved in forced labour in the country. Children working in soccer ball, carpet weaving, surgical, glass bangles, leather tanneries, domestic work, coalmines, rag-picking, auto-workshops, and brick kiln sectors, are the main victims of child labour. Many of them are often abused where they work, suffering beatings or torture. Jobs like these become particularly dangerous for children, as they are at the risk of physical and sexual abuse without real supervision.
Children Support Programme
There are a few programmes funded by the government to tackle child labour in Pakistan. For instance, the ‘Children Support Program’, started in 2015, gives parents money so that they can send their children to school instead of compelling them to join the work force. This initiative is the first conditional cash transfer programme available to parents of children aged between five to 16. So far, the government has distributed $3 million to families.
Save the Children
Save the Children has also been working with some of the sporting goods manufacturers represented by the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, and Industry and their international partner brands, represented by the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry. This joint effort is aimed at ensuring that children are not employed to stitch footballs. Save the Children (UK) includes disseminating information about child labour on major networks like CBS.
The organisation has also worked on projects with the British Secretary of State for International Development to phase out child labour in Sialkot. The £750,000 donated by Britain will be spent on education and training, and also on setting up credit and savings schemes, in an attempt to provide alternatives to bonded labour.
Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) has conducted research that goes into producing its publications, including three major books on child labour, juvenile justice and child rights. Publications include its annual report “The State of Pakistan’s Children”, and a large number of brochures, SPARC has also conducted a number of research studies. It has continued to ask successive governments to upgrade their laws to set a legal age limit for employment in Pakistan, although they have not been successful.
Save our Children Foundation
Save Our Children Foundation started in 2016 when Shaiyyane Malik along with Natasha Jhangir Khan drafted a petition for street children and received 300 signatories. “We started by writing letters to everyone in authority for protection of these children. Three years down, we are running a government school which specially caters to the needs of child labourers. We have an active Child Protection Unit now with a universal helpline 1121 to report any child abuse. Sindh Police has created a special unit which is only involved with child beggary. Murtaza Wahab who is also our board member, along with the Chief Minister is mainly responsible for this major step,” she tells.
Founder and President of the foundation, Shaiyyane Malik also addresses the issue of children working in the rural areas and shares, “While focusing on street children, our organisation also works on skill development and poverty elevation in the rural areas of Pakistan. In this regard, we have seen a lot of children working in the fields. I have worked with associations who have similar dreams for children and are trying to stop child labour in the rural areas as well and put children into schools and vocational institutes.”
The current state of children working under adverse circumstances is worst. They are deprived of the basic necessities including shelter and security. Moreover, there is no rule of law for people who are dragging them towards such a heinous activity. According to Malik, “Even though the Sindh Police is now actively involved, there are no shelters to accommodate children involved in forced labour. When police pick up female beggars and children, there is no remand for the crime of using children for begging. It is mainly cosmetic. Even though the laws do exist, these men and women are not put in the lock up even for a day; they are not brought before the magistrate for sentencing. Within a few hours they are back on the very same signal from which they have been picked. They have no fear of the law because they have very strong hands supporting them. Also, there is no parental DNA Testing in Sindh so there is no way of establishing actual parentage; no laws are followed whereby children have to go to school. Pakistan does not care for its children and this is one of the biggest corruptions of our nation for which our children are paying the price.”
While addressing what happens with the street children, Malik adds, “Kidnapped babies that one sees drugged and asleep in beggar women’s laps have very short life spans as they die due to dehydration and overdose and are disposed of unceremoniously. These are those children who are yearly discovered from garbage bins and nullahs. The statistics must be shared by the police openly so society can realise what is going on.
We have tried to put these children that we have rescued from the streets into regular schools like TCF but these children are misfits. We realised that these abused and street smart children cannot fit into regular education system. So we now have an informal education programme specially made for them. Our foundation has teachers who are trained and highly specialised to deal with such children. Rehabilitation centres like Alleviate Addiction Suffering Trust (AAS) deals with children who are drug addicts. Many more institutes like these need to be supported by the government,” explains Malik.
Child labour laws
In 2016, Pakistan was criticised for not conducting any surveys focusing on the overall issue of child labour of the past 20 years. This allowed for about 25 million children, who are not attending school, slip under the radar. On January 26, 2017, the province of Sindh made child labour illegal under The Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill, banning children under the age of 14 from working. The law also prohibits adolescents from working between the hours of 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. and for those adolescents who are working, they cannot work more than three hours a day.
While talking about implementation of child protection and child labour laws, Shaiyyanne Malik suggests, “Laws are already there. It is the implementation of these laws by the government which is not being taken care of. To ensure child protection civil society needs to get fully involved. Community child protection networks or committees need to be established which can act as interface between the local community and the rest (police, judge, lawyers). These communities could largely consist of concerned men and women elders, religious, NGOs, teachers, doctors etc who work hand in hand with administration, explaining child abuse, giving awareness to the rest of members of the communities and act as watch dogs for the local authorities. Government needs to establish a database all births. Right now, 66 per cent of children between the ages of one to five go unrecorded.”
A nation can never prosper till basic rights for its citizens are ensured. “Children in Pakistan have no human rights. They are used as tools in the hands of the ‘beggar mafia’, their parents and their handlers. Civil society is so ignorant and blind to the actual abuse of these children. They so happily fan the fire for this street economy by contributing heartily and readily thinking they are earning a place for themselves in heaven, while pushing these hapless children further and further into hell. The children who are runaways or kidnapped are used by the beggar mafia by first turning them into drug addicts, they become so dependent that they will go to any lengths for their daily fix eventually even resorting to crime and prostitution,” she laments.
According to Malik, the Government needs to wake up from its delusional dream. They have given no health, no education, no future and no dreams to our children. It’s high time that all children are treated fairly and given their due rights specially those born below the poverty line.