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Opinion

June 26, 2015

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No to child labour

Child labour is a blatant violation of human rights. The International Day Against Child Labour – falling on June 12 – was started by the ILO to bring this problem to public attention and to push for measures to reduce or eliminate this.
Child labour is defined by ILO as: “minimum age for work shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling, and in any case should not be less than 15 years.” According to some, child labour involves at least one of the following:
• Violates the nation’s minimum age laws
• Threatens children’s physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing
• Involves intolerable abuse, such as child slavery, child trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour or illicit activities
• Prevents children from going to school
• Uses children to undermine labour standards
According to the ILO, there are about 168 million children in the labour market worldwide. More than half of them, 85 million, are involved in hazardous work. The largest numbers are in Asia and Pacific, 78 million or 9.3 percent of child population. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentage of children, 59 million or 21 percent of children. 13 million are in Latin America and 9.2 million in Middle East and North Africa. In Pakistan 3 million are under age 14.
According to some estimates, every fifth household in Pakistan employs children as domestic employees and a majority (62 percent) of them are girls. An estimated 9 to 12 million children live on the streets of Pakistan’s major cities. Pakistan is a signatory to international human rights resolutions and the ILO convention against child labour but there been no serious effort by the political elite to reduce these numbers.
Most child labour is in the informal sector of economy. Children work in agriculture, small businesses, construction, domestic service, scavenging and begging. The worst kind of child labour involves human trafficking, sex slavery and prostitution,

debt bondage, organised and forced begging, drug trafficking etc. Many of them do not receive any payment, just food and a place to sleep.
Child labour impacts the physical as well as emotional and psychological wellbeing of children. Many of the activities in certain jobs lead to deformities of joints and bones in growing bodies. Children also suffer from a lack of self-esteem and psychological trauma due to harassment and violence at work. These children never get adequate schooling or skills training for a gainful employment and thus stay poor for the rest of their lives, trapping their future generations in this vicious cycle.
Causes leading to and perpetuating child labour, according to the ILO and others, include access to quality education and skills training, adult unemployment, wars and conflicts, lack of social security, market demand for cheap labour, lack of implementation or absence of laws against child labour, culture and tradition, human trafficking and poverty.
However, many studies have shown that by far the most prevalent and major cause of child labour is poverty. We can eliminate 80 percent or more of child labour just by reducing poverty. So, why does everyone beat around the bush rather than tackling the problem head on? Simply because to eliminate poverty means to challenge the current economic system which is a direct hit on the interests of the ruling elite. It is no wonder then that no political leader talks about it and no political party has put it on its agenda. The capitalist system has resulted in the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands – thus leaving fewer resources for the rest.
Many of the causes listed above, such as war and conflict, market demand for cheap labour, lack of laws against child labour, lack of social security, lack of access to quality education and adult unemployment can be traced to capitalism. Even human trafficking and prostitution are a result of the commodification of human beings.
Those who own the major chunk of wealth also control the majority of institutions like the media, international financial and other institutions like the WTO, NGOs and even the United Nations. It is not in their interest for the world to focus on the issue of equitable distribution of wealth. Since they have unlimited resources at their disposal, they control which narrative gets the most attention and gets acceptance. They can create think tanks, conduct research, buy charities through donations, influence public opinion and set trends through social, digital, and print media. They can and have conducted psychological research and know how to control and modify human behaviour. Thus to counter their narrative is an uphill task and to develop an action plan to break their hold on wealth and power is even more difficult.
There are examples in history where the most powerful monarchs and dictators were toppled by the sheer will of the people. But it is also true that it is easier to topple monarchs and dictators than to bring systemic and structural change. Systems are maintained and supported by political, social, economic, and religious elite who are beneficiaries of these systems. Anything that threatens their supremacy is dealt with brutal force.
Any entity that has ‘change of economic system’ on their agenda is going to face not just obstacles and use of overt force but also under handed and softer tactics to undermine this agenda. The only force able to counter the elites is the force of the united masses. And those who lead this struggle have to organise, strategise, muster enough resources and get the masses on their side. And then systems can be changed. This has also been proven in history. This is the only way to eliminate child labour. The rest is just window-dressing.
Email: [email protected]

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