PAKISTAN: Children handling animal waste during Eid-ul Azha — a disgrace on the government

The involvement of young children in collecting the offal, leftovers and refuse of sacrificed animals, on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, an Islamic festival, has been a common sight in many cities and towns in Pakistan. It is however a very disturbing fact that poor children, along with their parents or other family members, are doing such dirty work which is also injurious to their health.

Child labour is a long standing issue with socio cultural determinants. The situation is made worse by the callous attitude of various government departments and society at large, which is unable to curb this abhorrent practice.  It is now an established fact that child labour will continue to flourish, more so in poor countries where irregular and cheap labour constitute the largest part of the workforce. It is therefore necessary to put in place some sort of regulations for children to work as scavengers and efforts should be made to ensure proper implementation.

Dr. Kareem Ahmed, a general medical practitioner, informed that exposing children to such scavenging can cause severe allergies, chest problems and other infections.  Additionally, the harmful bacteria in the leftovers and refuse of slaughtered animals also increase the chance of various other diseases once they come in contact with unprotected human beings.

Article 32 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) 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”.

I met with Ghaffar, an eight year old boy, helping his father in the heap of animals waste on the third day of Eid.  His clothes and both hands were very filthy with the offal of goats and cows.  The bad odour in the surroundings really made it difficult to stand there for more than a few minutes; while Ghaffar and many other children were engaged in work for ten to fourteen hours, merely to earn some money.

Ghaffar told that, “My father has been out of work for last two months and even on the day of Eid-ul-Azha we didn’t have any money to buy one time meal. Since Eid, we have been scavenging and trying to earn some money for the family.”  The twelve year old child also added that his father had promised him to buy a cricket bat and a ball, in return of his labour; therefore, he is happily doing the work.

Children’s involvement in different labour activities has been in practice for a long time in many poor and developing countries, including Pakistan.  Certainly poverty and large family size are the most obvious factors in increasing participation of children in labour market.

Izhar is only fourteen and he is the eldest among six siblings.  He was also involved in assisting his Uncle in scavenging.  Izhar said, “I have been working with a fruit vendor for last six months; however, my employer had decided to close his business for a week, on the occasion of Eid.  Therefore, I am helping my Uncle to earn some money.”  The child however didn’t like the nature of scavenging work and termed that his family responsibilities forced him to do such work.

Bushra Shad, a young entrepreneur, remarked that Eid-ul-Azha is the occasion of huge economic activities which provides benefit to a substantial number of people in the country.  She added that involvement of children in informal sector of the economy is a reality; however, she maintained, that certain rules and standards should be followed to provide some protection to children at their workplace.  She suggested that provision of gloves, masks, and boots may help providing some safety to children involved in scavenging work.

It is a reality that these children and adults too, provide a significant support to the municipal corporations in managing and disposing of the offal and refuse of sacrificed animals on Eid.  Their services are really commendable in cleaning the cities and their environment.  However, the involvement of children in such dirty and injurious work is totally unacceptable.  There is a dire need to understand the broader issue of rag picking and prepare plans to minimize children’s involvement in such work.

Children are almost half of our population and the whole of our future. It is obligatory on us to provide them a supportive environment so that every child lives up to his or her full potential and leads a fulfilling life.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-105-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Child rights, Right to health,