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‘3,727 children with adult family members freed in a decade’

By Our Correspondent
June 13, 2023

In the past decade, as many as 3,727 children in Sindh, together with their adult family members, were released from the custody of landlords in the agriculture sector, read a statement issued by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA) in connection with World Day Against Child Labour, which is observed every June 12.

These children constitute 34 per cent of the total bonded labourers released in the agriculture sector. The data has been gathered by the HWA. The highest number of children were released in 2013 (651), 2019 (606) and 2020 (915).

The statement quoted HWA President Akram Khaskheli as saying that in 2022 the total number of released children in the agriculture sector was 198, which is the lowest reported figure compared to the previous years.

The prime cause of the lowest reporting of bonded labour cases is the media’s attention to rain and flood stories starting from August 2022. Most of the children (73) in 2022 were released from the Umerkot district.

In the brick kiln sector, of the total reported cases of released bonded labourers in 2022, 93 were children. Khaskheli said Sindh has around 1.7 million bonded labourers.

Of these labourers, over 700,000 children were bonded labourers working in indecent and inhuman working and living conditions imposed by their landlords in the agriculture sector.

He said Sindh has 6.4 million out-of-school children, most of whom are engaged in child labour. He added that out of the 29 districts of the province, district vigilance committees (DVCs) have been formed in 19.

However, he pointed out, these DVCs were not reported to be involved in the release and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers released through court orders, so this raises concerns about the effectiveness and the role of the DVCs in addressing the issue of bonded labour.

In all of the instances, the police raided the landowners’ and brick kilns’ properties, and brought peasants and brick kiln workers’ family members before the courts.

The police did not arrest the landlords in any of the incidents, and no charges were filed against them under the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 2015. It shows a lack of enforcement and accountability for the landlords involved in the exploitation of peasants.

The HWA claimed that child labourers increased after the floods of August 2022, but the provincial government’s Sindh Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy (2022) falls short of adequately addressing the needs and rights of children in rural areas, especially those engaged in agricultural activities in indecent working conditions.

The statement also said Sindh has introduced better laws to minimise child labour and reduce the number of out-of-school children, but it is worst at implementing them. There are several laws in the province but all are ineffective.

These laws include the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950, the Sindh Child Protection Authority (SCPA) Act 2011, the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013, the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 2015 and the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act 2017.

These laws offer great protection to children, but the implementation of these laws has been a distant dream, as children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

Khaskheli said that the SCPA, which is responsible for safeguarding the rights and welfare of children, has regrettably failed to protect them from the worst forms of child labour rampant at factories and mechanic shops across the province.

He said child labour not only violates international conventions and domestic legislation but also undermines the socio-economic progress of the region. It is the responsibility of the SCPA to actively address this issue, protect the rights of vulnerable children, and collaborate with relevant stakeholders to eradicate the worst forms of child labour in Sindh.

The HWA asserted that Sindh should implement the laws and address the issue of bonded labour in the agriculture, brick kiln and other economic sectors. For this, the Government of Sindh needs strong will and commitment, the statement concluded.