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February 28, 2021

Child labour - an increasingly horrid practice

Lahore

 
February 28, 2021

In the Victorian Era a good 21% of England’s work force consisted of child laborers often times younger than the age of 10. In 1833 the British Parliament passed legislation in the form of the Factory Act which barred underage workers from working in the factories and despite the economic repercussions, the government was adamant on enforcing the new laws not even considering them again despite times upcoming times of turmoil such as the Great War.

Today the United Kingdom is not only a place where child labor is illegal but there is a plethora of legislation protecting the rights of the children and making that they have safe and protected childhoods. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Pakistan where surveys have approximated over 12.5 million children working as unregistered laborers. The number really is quite astounding, to put it in perspective that is more than the number of children enrolled in primary schools in Pakistan.

Admittedly, for some farmers who make below the poverty line, there is realistically no other option other than having their young children help in the family expenses. That is just scratching the surface though. A large majority of these child labours don’t even get to work for their families but are instead employed as slaves in factories and notoriously brick kilns. These brick kilns pay at a rate of 960 rupees per 1000 bricks, which means that it’s almost impossible for brick kiln workers to make any sort of real money.

The root of the problem and why so there are so many child laborers working in places like brick kilns is the fact that bonded labor continues to wreak havoc in Pakistan. People in rural areas often take loans out of desperation, maybe to pay a hospital bill or to feed their children and family.

In order to repay these bills, they are asked to work at a brick kiln or at a factory, but due to the miniscule amount of money they make oftentimes their debt spirals out of control to a point where it can no longer be paid.

This is where bonded labour comes in; families that cannot repay their debts are forced to work to clear their debts collectively, and any new additions to the family (children spouses etc) will have to work at the brick kiln as well, due to their mounting debt. What it is essentially, is forcing people to work for you in order to pay off their impossible debts, and forcing their children to work for you in order to pay off their parents’ debts.

This is the nightmare that almost 4.5 million people face, and almost 1 million children must bear. These children work from sunrise to 8pm in some of the worst conditions imaginable. They are deprived of proper homes, hospitals, sanitation, basic hygiene, electricity and whatnot. Plus, the money they earn is all spent in paying off their debts. Even worse, is that the kilns rarely provide the full minimum wage of 960 rupees even if their 1000 brick quota is filled.

Unfortunate as it is, child labor isn’t only restricted to some far-off rural areas where there is no awareness. We all have seen children working in homes of the rich in order to earn a few pennies to support their family but every now and then there is news about torture and violence on domestic child laborer’s. Growing up with mental and physical torture can seriously affect a person’s health especially a child. Psychological trauma is very common among such children and many of them turn towards drugs to cope with their everyday lives.

During the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the number of domestic child “slaves” increased drastically due to the increase in poverty. As the schools began to close, more and more children were pushed into this workforce. The number of children involved in these activities doubled during this pandemic. This simple statistic shows the number of people living below the poverty line and their bare desperation disregarding all consequences and sending their children to work in order to make their living.

The mere existence of this practice and the growing number of victims even with relevant laws in place shows the major administrative failure. Our government rarely if ever looks in this direction. Almost all of their practices are illegal: from the forced labour, bonded labour, child labour to the distressing conditions and the lack of adequate provisions - and yet it still persists.

It’s all well and good to report on an issue and call it a day, but it has become apparent that these children - again, as little as 5, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity of any human being. Being forced to “break your bones” as a child in order to pay off the debt of a relative who may no longer even be alive is an incomprehensibly evil act that far too many people seem to know or care about. —Malik Nawfal Mahmood

(Writer is a young student of Aitchison College)