PAKISTAN: Child labour is an issue of human and social development and has to be tackled in its actual context
On 12th June 2002, the International Labour Organization (ILO) initiated the World Day against Child Labour. The day is celebrated with a view to focus on efforts to minimize and eventually eliminate the abhorrent practice of child labor, prevailed all around the world in all imaginable forms.
The estimates of International Labor Organization (ILO) informed that “around 215 million are engaged in different forms of child labor, out of which more than half of child laborers, an estimated 115 million are involved in forms of employment that are likely to harm their health, safety or morals.”
Advocate Ashraf Salman informed that, 12th June is an occasion of the adoption of the ILO Convention No. 182, one of the most important Conventions of International Labor Organization (ILO). He added that, “ILO Convention 182 focuses on worst forms of child labor and according to different studies, researches and surveys a large number of children, especially in poor and under-developed countries, are involved in such form of child labor.”
It is really heartening that in the year 2001, the then government of Pakistan had ratified the ILO Convention No. 182, pertaining to worst form of child labor. According to the Article 1 of ILO 182 “Each Member which ratifies this Convention shall take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor as a matter of urgency.”
Samreen Saleem, a blogger and human rights activist, opined that adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 in 1999 was certainly a great achievement; she maintained that child labor is a very serious issue and World Day against Child Labor demands policy makers, legislators, social workers, lawyers, human, labor and child rights activists, government functionaries, non-governmental organizations, labor organizations, and ordinary citizens to come together and join their hands against child labor and devise strategies to minimize and eventually eliminate the practice.
It is roughly estimated that millions of children in Pakistan are engaged in different forms of labor. Recent indicators show that increasing poverty, unemployment and sky-rocketing prices have forced thousands of families to send their children for work. Asif Haroon, a local journalist, observed that child labor is a reality in many parts of the world, including Pakistan. He added that the issue has received considerable attention from higher-authorities, policy makers, and legislators; however no positive impact on the lives of innocent working children has been witnessed.
I met with Gul Inam who is merely twelve-year-old and has been working in a roadside hotel for last three years. He informed that his father is a driver while mother is a house wife. He has four siblings; all of them are younger to him. “I have taken the responsibility for providing dinner to my family, as my father doesn’t have much financial resources to properly feed the family.” The child earns Rs. 70/= per day for his hard work which normally spans twelve to fourteen hours.
Rana Asif, President of Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF), informed that the numbers of people living in poverty have increased in recent years. He observed that marginalized and disadvantaged communities, such as displaced people and migrant workers, are the worst sufferers of prevailing poverty trends. Rana Asif added that children of migrant communities are engaged in different types of labor, including assistance in catching fishes and cleaning shrimps and prawns. The President of Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF) further added that these children receive very negligible amount of money for their hard work. He also suggested comprehensive researches should be designed and carried out in migrant communities to understand the issue of child protection in such communities, in totality.
Beating, bashing, scolding and abusing the working children, either boys or girls, is a routine matter. Sanaullah is twelve year old and he has been working in a small roadside hotel, for last three years. “My family lives in a village located in the outskirts of Multan. My employer is a friend of my father and therefore he sent me to work with him. I don’t know about my salary as my Master gives the money directly to my father. I only get three time meal and a shalwar kamez suite on every Eid. I tried my best to perform all my duties without giving any reason to my Master to say anything to me but despite my efforts he regularly uses dirty words and beats me severely,” Sanaullah informed.
Shahzadi is ten year old and she has been working as a domestic worker for last one year in Karachi. “I belong to a village located in interior part of Sindh province. We are two sisters and a brother and all of us are engaged in different work. My father used to work but after the 2010 floods in Sindh, the financial situation of my family has been deteriorated; therefore, my parents had decided that children should work to support the family.” Shahzadi works around ten to twelve hours in a day. She receives three time meal; however, she doesn’t know about her monthly wages.
Salman Mukhtar, General Secretary Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF), considered ragpicking as one of the worst forms of child labor. He informed that more than 20,000 children, a large number of which consists of Afghan refugees, are working as ragpickers in Karachi. Salman Mukhtar observed that collection of garbage, especially hospital waste and syringes, is a difficult and hazardous work. He opined that contaminated needles may cause severe infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. The General Secretary Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF) also observed that these children spend eight to twelve hours on the streets, without any proper supervision; therefore, ragpickers children are vulnerable to all forms of violence and abuse.
It is pertinent to mention that Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) under Article 32 says: "State Parties recognize the right of the 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 to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development".
Child labor is not an administrative problem, attached with any government department or ministry. Child labor is an issue of human and social development and we have to tackle the problem in its actual context. As poverty is a major contributing factor in increasing number of child laborers in the country; therefore, government should help out poor parents through social protection schemes, such as Benazir income support programs. It is also urged on political parties to initiate dialogue with relevant stakeholders and address the issue of child labor in their election manifestoes.