A constitutional obligation

The legislature has enacted a good number of laws to protect the rights of labour in Pakistan

Domestic child labour is the cheapest form of help. A large number of households employ children as domestic workers. This leads to children being at the mercy of their employers. A majority of such children reside at their place of employment, increasing their risk of physical and sexual abuse. Cases of child servitude are ubiquitous throughout our society. In many cases the parents of the children have no other option but to send their young ones to work, leaving them at the mercy of other adults. Many people in the lower economic strata are renting out their children.

A special case of child labour is the bonded labour system, which includes engagement for any economic consideration received by the worker or by any members of his family and. Bonded labour is a type of slavery. Monetary advances to the workers are common and many kinds of work require the advancement of money. Those in bonded labour have to work in harsh conditions and in most cases the debts are passed onto next generations.

The 18th Amendment to the constitution devolved all child welfare and labour issues to the provincial governments. In 2017, Sindh enacted the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children, which establishes 15 as the minimum age for employment and 19 as the minimum age for employment in hazardous work. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took the step of enacting the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Free Compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act, making education free and compulsory for children aged between five and 16 years. The Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children (Amendment) Act, which increases the penalty for using children for begging and prohibits the use of children to sell goods with the intention of begging. In addition, in 2018, the federal government enacted the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, which brings the law into compliance with international standards by exempting children from the requirement that force, fraud, or coercion must be proven to constitute trafficking. The federal government also enacted the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection System Act in 2018. The Act sets the minimum ages for work and hazardous work, provides a hazardous work list, and prohibits the worst forms of child labour in Islamabad.

Pakistan is not a welfare state. The children sent out for work do not get any say in the matter, neither do their parents have another choice.

Article 3 of the constitution provides that the state shall ensure elimination of all forms of exploitation and gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle “from each according to his ability and to each according to his work.” Article 4 stipulates that every citizen and every other person for the time being in Pakistan has an inalienable right to enjoy the protection of laws and to be treated in accordance with law. Article 9 sanctifies right to life and ordains that no one shall be deprived of life or liberty and Article 10 provides protection against illegal detention. Article 11 prohibits slavery, all forms of forced labour, human trafficking and child labour. All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Article 25A guarantees right to free and compulsory education to all children of the age five to sixteen years as determined by law. Finally, the principles of policy set out in Articles 33, 37 and 38 require the state to promote social justice and social and economic wellbeing of the people. A cumulative reading of the above-mentioned articles shows that the state has a constitutional obligation to abolish all manifestations of slavery, forced and child labour and free Pakistan of this ignominy.

The legislature has enacted a good number of laws to protect the rights of labour in Pakistan which cover almost all necessary aspects. As far as child labour is concerned, the Mines Act, 1923, was probably the first enactment that dealt with the subject. Section 26 of the said Act ordained that no child shall be employed in a mine or be present in any part of a mine which is below ground. Another law on the subject called the Children (Pledging of Labor) Act, 1933, was enacted. This was followed by many others. Some of the most important enactments presently in force in the Punjab that prohibit employment of children in different occupations are: (i) Children (Pledging of Labor) Act, 1933; (ii) Punjab Compulsory Education Act, 1994; (iii) Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act, 2016; (iv) Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act, 2016.

In addition to the foregoing, there are sector-specific legislations like: (i) Mines Act, 1923; (ii) Factories Act, 1934 (adopted by province of the Punjab through Amendment Act of 2012); (iii) The Road Transport Workers Ordinance, 1961; (iv) The Shops and Establishments Ordinance, 1969 (adopted by province of the Punjab through Amendment Act of 2014); and (v) Punjab Prohibition of Child Labor at Brick Kilns Act, 2016.

Despite legislating quite a few statutes, Pakistan has been unable to implement the laws. Thus, child labour is far from being eradicated. Currently gaps exist in Pakistan’s legal framework to adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labour, including minimum age for hazardous and other work mainly because of the number of labour inspectors being insufficient for the size of Pakistan’s workforce. The most important tool available for eradicating child labousr is that of education. Ensuring that every child in Pakistan gets their fair share of education without any hindrance can greatly impact the availability of child labourers. Pakistan is not a welfare state. Children been sent out for work do not get any say in the matter, neither do their parents have much choice. The government needs to ensure that the minimum wage requirement is being met throughout the country. Making education and healthcare free for all will lessen the burden of the poor who in the end are forced to send their children to work.

The writer is an advocate of the High Courts currently practicing in Lahore

A constitutional obligation