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June 14, 2021

Children at work

 
June 14, 2021

Every single child has the right to enjoy a childhood filled with education and recreation and the joys which only come at that time of life. Sadly, as the world observed World Child Labour Day last week, the fact is that in Pakistan some 12.5 million children are at work. Some work in factories, some in fields, some in households, and some in far more dangerous sectors such as mining or even in bangle-making. Pakistan has in place laws which make it mandatory for every child to go to school. These laws are not implemented, and due to the poor quality of public-sector schools, as well as many private ones, parents feel it may be better to send the child out to work rather than to force him or her to go to school where they earn nothing and learn little.

The issue needs to be handled as part of sweeping reforms which take on board education and other walks of life, including the way households are set up. One suggestion is that the women in the household take on the work done by children, in the sense that they are facilitated in setting up small businesses, which can be carried out from home if required — such as stitching, embroidery and the making of small items or the packing of items sold in markets. The earnings would leave families free of dependence on income brought in by children.

We also need to create far greater awareness about the dangers and ills of child labour and stigmatise it in a manner that has not so far been possible. To do so, we must speak out when we see children put to work in households and in other public places. There has been an attempt over social media to shame people who bring young, even under-age maids into restaurants, but fail to feed them, while their own children devour the food on the table. Other instances of the death of children at work come mainly from households, but also occur in factories, in mines, on farms etc. The bonded labour of children at brick kilns in Punjab and at agricultural estates in Sindh is also not rare. In fact, it is a regular occurrence and what is necessary to protect our children is to work together, put children in school and give them back that part of life which should belong to them as children rather than them carrying the burdens of adulthood.