By Mahe Darakhshan:
Children are the most beautiful and purest creation of God. Every morning we feel a special kind of joy and happiness, watching them going schools in different colorful uniforms. Unfortunately there are millions of innocent children, who cannot go to schools due to the financial problems, and being forced to kill their dreams and pushed forward to earn living for their families. They belong to that segment of the society who don’t have any hopes and never seen their childhood. They have forgotten all the pleasures of child hood. These children are the victims of the phenomenon, child labor. The working class observed World Day against child labor on June 12, 2011. Seminars, conferences and rallies were organized by the NGOs, trade unions and organizations like Employers’ Federation of Pakistan. Employers’ Federation of Pakistan in collaboration with International Labor the theme of this years was on Hazardous Child Labor. A number of media, industry, trade unions, and NGOs representatives attended the conference.
The Government of Pakistan in the year 2001 ratified International Labor Organization’s Convention 182, on “Worst Form of Child Labor”, thus joining the global campaign to eradicate Hazardous and intolerable form of children’s work. ILOs 2011 report warned that an alarming high number of children are still caught in Hazardous work. According to the report around 115 million of the world’s 215 million child laborers are working in hazardous conditions. Generally we can define child labor as, any kind of work that can harm them or exploit them in some way like physically, mentally, morally or blocking their access to education.
International convention adopted by the United Nations and the International Labor Organization define “child” as anyone below the age of 18, and “child labor” as some types of work performed by children below age 18. A recent report on “State of Pakistan’s Children 2010” by the Society for the Protection Rights of the Child (SPARC) shows that “the trend of child labor is decreasing globally but unfortunately in Pakistan there has been an increase in child labor.” Child labors do not have access to the education which is nowadays recognized as the right for every child between the ages of 6 and 14.
In Pakistan children aged between 5-14 are above 40 million. According to the survey report released by the Federal Bureau of Statistics funded by International Labor Organization’s International Program on the elimination of Child Labour,”3.8 million children of age group between 5-14 are working in Pakistan, out of total 40 million children of this age group, fifty percent of these children are in age group of 5-9 years.
Even out of 3.8 million children, 2.7 were claimed to be working in agriculture sector. Two million and four hundred of them were said to be boys.
When dealing with child labor, there are two types of child labor, non-bonded and bonded.
Non bonded, where the child is not working to pay off a debt that their family or guardian owe to the employer of the child. However, this does not mean that the non-bonded child labor is good, they may not be paying off a debt but still be forced to work for their living in a very poor conditions and earn a minimum amount for their hard work.
Bonded Child labor, the worst type in which a child below 18 years of age as defined in UNCRC,” working against debt taken by the child or child’s parents or guardians, with or without the consent of the child, under such conditions that restrains the child’s freedom and development, making them vulnerable to physical and other forms of abuse and of the child’s basic rights”. Employers of bonded laborers know how to take advantages of the situation of the poor family. They provide varying amount of money and charge abnormally high interest rates and pay less to that poor child family, resultant the debts goes up instead of coming down. Hence the child has to work for many years to pay of the debts even until adulthood in many cases. In most of the cases this debt will be passing down from generations to generations.
Convention 182, adopted by the International Labor Organization on June 1,1999, in Geneva on their 87th meeting to help rid the world from the worst type of child labor included:
Child slaver; bonded child labour
Children involved in illegal activities;
During the year 2001 and 2002, the Government of Pakistan carried out a series of consultants from the Labor Department, Trade Unions, Employers and Non-Governmental Organization, the main objective was to identify the occupations and categories of work, which may be considered hazardous under the provision of International Labor Organization’s convention 182, according to which these occupations and categories are identified as hazardous:
- Work inside underground mines, over ground quarries, including blasting and assistance in blasting;
- Work with power driven cutting machinery like saws, shears and guillotines;
- Work with live electrical wires over 50V;
- All operations related to leather tanning process, soaking, dehairing, liming, chrome tanning and ink application;
- Mixing or application or pesticides or insecticides or fumigation;
- work with exposure to all toxic explosive and carcinogenic chemicals;
- Sand blasting and other work involving exposure to silicon;
- Work with exposure to coal dust and cement dust;
- Manufacturing and selling firework explosives;
- stone crushing and work inside sewerage pipelines, pits and storage tanks;
- Lifting heavy weight;
- Carpet weaving, deep fishing, seafood and fish processing;
- Sheep casing, wool industry, surgical instrument manufacturing, tobacco processing and manufacturing; and
- Work 2 meters above the floor;
Unfortunately the majority of the active economic participant children in Pakistan are working in hazardous conditions. An estimated 2.7million children are working in agriculture alone where there work includes weeding, cultivation of soil, fixing the agricultural canals, applying pesticides and picking fruits and vegetables. There were also forced to harvest tobacco, sugarcane, cotton buds. Working in agricultural fields requires continuous bending kneeling, climbing ladders and carry heavy loads of fruits and vegetables, causes back ache, serious injuries and infections. Children living near garbage dumps are being forced to go into the dumps and search something to sell. A large number of children are being seen picking trashes from the roads, dumps and hospital wastes. These children are at high risk for being exposed to harmful gases, getting injured by the broken glasses and sharp objects. Female child laborers are mostly involve in most common type of child labor; work as domestic workers, where their work includes cleaning, cutting , washing ,and handling sharp kitchen utensils. These children experienced sexual abuse, harassment, physical and mental and verbal abuses, by the family members, and in some cases tortured to death. Children are forced to work in industries and goods production like carpet industries, sports goods, shoes and surgical instruments. According to SPARC report in Sialkot City, approximately 5,800 children are working in this industry, because the work requires very quick hands. They experience many terrible things in this industry including burns, respiratory illness and carpal tunnel syndrome. 40% of these children working in this industry experienced physical punishment at work. The most fearing and alarming field which is new in Pakistan other than child trafficking( where a large number of girls and boys trafficked yearly to other parts of the world and being used as sex slaves and for camel race, often receive sexually transmitted diseases or expired during the camel race) the rising percentage of the usage of children (age group between 8 to 18) by the militants and terrorist groups to fight their war. They are force to kill and handle pistols, rifles, grenade and explosives.
Child labor is not an isolated phenomenon, it is an outcome of multiple factors, poverty is its most important phenomenon. In Pakistan around 30%of the people are living below the poverty line. Due to unfair distribution of income, unemployment and inflation, poor parents are forced to send their children to work for economic reason. In many cases the parents of a child cannot find jobs, forcing their children to work instead. Because they are more docile, easier to exploit them and can be paid much lesser than the adults, they get jobs more easily than adults. Their parents justified their action on account of poverty, however if poverty can be justified for child labor, then it should also justify prostitution, kidnapping, smuggling and all other crimes. Hence we cannot say poverty is the only factor that promotes child labor, over population is another contributing factor to child labor. It is very common in Pakistan that couples, cannot afford to fulfill the needs of even a single child prefer to have six or seven child. The problem is that people in Pakistan believe that the use of contraceptives will go against their religious beliefs. Naturally in a case where there are seven hungry children crying for food, forced their parents to send them to earn living for them and for the family as well. The quality of education added fuel in increasing child labor. The class system in education, cause many parents to feel that it is useless to send their children to schools as there is no guarantee of jobs at the end, because of the quality of education provided by the government schools. Natural calamities and crises also play a huge role in giving rise to child labor. An increase was noted after the earth quake in 2005 and the recent flood can be seen as a major threat to the future of thousands of the children. Media reports have indicated that children from flood affected areas are being promised lucrative jobs, taken away from their families and being used as sex workers and bonded labors.
The gap between law and its implementation is a serious problem in Pakistan. According to child labour law in Pakistan, “a child cannot be employed before age of 15 under any circumstance, moreover, bonded labor is condemned by the United Nations as being similar to slavery and considered as the violation of article 4 of the Universal Declaration of human rights. Article 11 of the Pakistan’s constitution prohibits slavery trafficking and participation of children in hazardous occupation. The government passed the bonded labor abolition act in 1992, which cancelled all the debts of people in bonded labor, however the practice still continues. These laws are ignored in Pakistan and children from 4 to 14 are still fuelling the countries factories, and are often working in brutal and hazardous conditions.
Child labor is a reality in Pakistan and we all have to accept it and must have to work to eradicate this plague completely from Pakistan. The government must have to take Strong measures in order to fulfill the dream of combating child labor. Government must ensure that all children have access to quality education until at least the minimum age of employment. End of class system and a need based designed curriculum is needed for these children, skill based, job oriented education, which will help them in future. It should enhance social protection policies that motivate the poor parents to keep their children in school, through cash transfer scheme like Benazir income program or school meals, free book and uniforms.
Instead of treating child labor as the problem of Labor Ministry, treat this issue as a human developmental problem, involve labor, education, social, cultural and developmental ministries to join hand and develop policies jointly to eradicate Child Labour.Provide the child and the family support, assistance and aid to help the children’s healthy development. The Policy must be multi sectorial and develop to facilitate the children at risk. Community mobilization, involvement of Parents, teacher and NGOs, Trade Unions and Organizations working against child labor is necessary for the policies developed by the government to be implemented effectively. This gives them a sense of ownership. New sources of income and micro credit schemes for alternative to incomes they earned from their children’s employment. Mobilize the religious scholars and organization to create awareness against the child labor.
A comprehensive media strategy is required to combat child labor. Mass media has a decisive role to play in mobilizing the people, shaping public opinion on matter of social issues. Media affects people’s perception and priorities their thinking about the political contents, it shapes the public behavior about the issues such as restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chuadhry and the way they mobilize the whole nation for the Pakistani hostages captivated by the Somali pirates. Gatekeepers of the media play a central role in shaping the media agenda which becomes the public agenda after sometimes. Now they have to set an agenda to create awareness for millions of the children who work to support their families. Electronic media such as radio and television has a reach to large portion of the society and can help to spread awareness about the illegality of the child labor. They can spread awareness about the alternatives child labor. The skilled and bold personality of anchorperson are now the opinion makers of the public, they raise people’s voice and clearly ask the real point of the crisis, they can persuade the public to think about the issue and can raise their voices against child labor. They may help in forming a campaign and recruiting supporters quickly. They can create national and global think tank and opinion polls by highlighting this issue. There is a circular relationship between among public attention, politicians’ interest and media. Government and Politicians only get involved when public attention is drawn to an issue, it is necessary for obtaining a political commitment and create a pressure on government to take action is to keep the issue constantly on public agenda. There is a need to develop and print news stories, features in print media, and for electronic media to air media products including theaters, workshops, dramas, documentaries, discussion programs and establish a network of media personnel for an action against child labor.
In conclusion, child labor is an evil, it is a reality, despite all the positive laws it is increasing in Pakistan. The government must have to take strong measure for the elimination of child labor and save them from working in hazardous condition by the strict implementation of the provision of laws on child labor because they not only suffered from injuries, they lose their childhood and opportunities to attend school and other joyful activities of their age. Government along with the communities, media, and organizations such as International Labor Organization and Employers Federation of Pakistan must have to work in harmony to get rid of this tragic problem, Child Labor.