Friday June 21, 2024

The children who never enjoy childhood

By Zafar Alam Sarwar
November 17, 2019

The lower class people of our society get amazed when primary schoolchildren pester them for the meaning of ‘revolution’ — the word being frequently used by some leaders on TV channels these days.

The already in distress parents fail to satisfy the coatless crazy kids who feel time has not changed for them, nor the system and the environment they live and work in. Nobody has ever tried to discover the working child.

Human rights activists and senior citizens are quite right when they say childhood for millions of children presents a different picture. It is a time for playing, for learning and for progressive maturation into productive adulthood.

But the visible unpleasant fact is that nothing has changed for children who are seen working in fields, tending cattle, weaving carpets, repairing cars and motorbikes, working in small hotels and tea stalls, picking waste items from trash, toiling at brick kilns, running errands as domestic servants. They’re the children who never enjoy childhood.

Lawyers, legal experts and reformers have always stressed the point that all forms of enforced labour and traffic in human beings are prohibited, and under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan no child below the age of 14 can be engaged in any factory or in mine or in any other hazardous employment. Similarly, it’s the right of child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

About 30 years back, it was estimated that a minimum of eight million children worked under the carpets, in small industries and workshops, at home overburdened with domestic chores, and on the streets doing this and that job.

According to a media survey, the situation has not changed yet in the 21st century: there is an alarming increase in the number of children who have fallen prey to poverty and economic exploitation.

True, all work is not detrimental to the child. But widespread societal acceptance of child labour has obscured the fact that most of the child labour is exploitative and many occupations jeopardize the child’s health and development. One can say if poverty is the overall reason for child labour, the same is also the reason for poverty.

The undeniable fact that poverty is responsible for child labour, but the fact that child labour itself is responsible for the perpetuation of poverty is often overlooked. As a class, working children constitute a highly uneducated segment of society; most of them being illiterate are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The fact is that a large number of such little girls and boys are working as domestic servants in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad and many other towns and cities. They include those who are blown by poverty from villages of Gilgit-Baltistan.

A substantial number of children are ‘self-employed’, hawking cheap goods, shining shoes and collecting waste material. They include children born to parents who had migrated from Afghanistan. When will the parliamentarians take notice of such an inhuman situation and do something for betterment of the victims of exploitation.