CHILD LABOR: A SCAR ON SOCIETY

SAIMA IBRAHIM
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 1 - 7, 2011

Child labor is a social issue in Pakistan and is considered a violation of human rights by the United Nations. Child labor refers to the employment of children at regular and sustained labor. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations and is illegal in many countries.

Child labor has become an issue after the advent of universal schooling with changes in working conditions during the industrial revolution and with the emergence of the concepts of workers' and children's rights.

Who is a child laborer? The term child labor generally refers to any economic activity performed by a person under the age of 15, defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations. On the beneficial side of the continuum, there is a light work after school or legitimate apprenticeship opportunities such as helping out in the family business. At the destructive end is employment that is preventing effective school attendance and hazardous to the physical and mental health of the child.

Are age limits for work the same in all countries? Almost everywhere, age limits formally regulate children's activities - when they can leave school, marry, vote, be treated as adults by the criminal-justice system, and join the armed forces and when they can work. But, age limits differ from activity to activity and from country to country.

The legal minimum age for all work in Egypt, for example, is 12 in the Philippines 14 in Hong Kong 15. Peru adopts a variety of standards: the minimum age is 14 in agriculture; 15 in industry; 16 in deep-sea fishing; and 18 for work in ports and seafaring.

Many countries make a distinction between light and hazardous work with the minimum age for the former generally being 12, for the latter usually varying between 16 and 18.

ILO conventions adopt this approach allowing light work at age 12 or 13, but hazardous work not before 18. The ILO establishes a general minimum age of 15 years, provided 15 is not less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling. The ILO defines child labor as:

1- When a child is working during early age
2- He overworks or gives over time to labor
3- He works due to the psychologically, socially, and materialistic pressure
4- He becomes ready to labor on a very low pay.

This is the most widely used yardstick when establishing how many children are currently working around the world. Millions of children are engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, laboring behind the walls of workshops, hidden from view in plantations.

Child Labor Law: Child labor law, enacted by the federal government, restricts when children can work and what jobs they can do. Teens hired for nonagricultural employment (which is just about everything other than farm work) must be at least fourteen. Other child labor law restrictions regulating the type of positions young workers can hold and the type of work they can do are also in effect.

CHILD LABOR LAW: JOB RESTRICTIONS

18 Years of Age: Once a youth reaches 18 years of age, he or she is no longer subject to the federal youth employment and child labor law provisions.

16 and 17 Years of Age: Sixteen- and 17-year-old may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the secretary of labor. Examples of equipment declared hazardous in food service establishments include power-driven meat processing machines (meat slicers, saws, patty forming machines, grinders, or choppers), commercial mixers and certain power-driven bakery machines.

14 and 15 Years of Age: During the school year, hours are limited to three hours a day and 18 hours a week. On days when there is no school and in the summer working hours increase to 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. There are limits on when children can work, too - no later than 7 p.m. during the school year and no later than 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day. Fourteen- and 15- year-old may be employed in restaurants and quick-service establishments outside school hours in a variety of jobs for limited periods of time and under specified conditions.

JOBS EXEMPT FROM CHILD LABOR LAW REGULATIONS

In general, children of any age are permitted to work for businesses entirely owned by their parents, except those under 16 may not be employed in mining or manufacturing and no one under 18 may be employed in any occupation the secretary of labor has declared to be hazardous. Minors employed in the delivery of newspapers to consumers are exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) child labor provisions, as well as the wage and hours provisions.

Children employed as actors or performers in motion pictures or theatrical productions, or in radio or television productions, are exempt from FLSA coverage. Therefore, FLSA rules regarding total allowable number of work hours in one day and allowable times of day to work do not apply.

Pakistani society is such that, a poor child can quite conveniently be deprived of basic education, only to feed the rest of his family members. Anyone up to the age of 18 is a child and his basic right is to receive education and proper upbringing rather than use his hands to destroy his own bright future. Children are especially exploited in the third world countries as they are a cheap source of labor and Pakistan children are used as labors in the sports industry, carpet industry, and the footwear and in glassware production.

Child labor is a serious social problem within Pakistan because the future and progress of any country depends on an educated and enlightened youth and if a child is not properly socialized then he/she will not be able to grow as confident and literate Pakistani citizens.

During the last year, the Federal Bureau of Statistics released the results of its survey funded by ILO's IPEC (International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor). The findings were that although child labor is strictly prohibited by law, 3.8 million children age group of 5-14 years are working in Pakistan out of total 40 million children in this age group; fifty percent of these economically active children are in age group of 5 to 9 years. Even out of these 3.8 million economically active children, 2.7 million were claimed to be working in the agriculture sector. Two million and four hundred thousand (73 per cent) of them were said to be boys.

There are various reasons for exploitation of children within the economic sector of Pakistan and such causes are directly related to the major social problems of Pakistan.

The factors that generate child labor within Pakistan are parental poverty and illiteracy; it is an outcome of a multitude of socioeconomic factors and has its roots in poverty, lack of opportunities, high rate of population growth, unemployment, uneven distribution of wealth and resources, outdated social customs and norms and plethora of other factors.

According to Social Policy Development Centre (SDPC) Karachi has stated in one of its reports that the ratio of poverty in Pakistan was 33 per cent during 1999 that increased in 2001 and reached 38 per cent. Consider the point that if 38 per cent of the country's total population is leading life below the poverty-line wherein the people are deprived of basic necessities of life like clothing, shelter, food, education and medication, the children of these people will be forced to become workers in order to survive.

Another reason of child labor in Pakistan is that our people don't have the security of social life, an irresponsible political system; social and economic pressures; and lack of education. Social attitudes in Pakistan due to which a child is considered an adult at quiet an early stage due to biological changes, also are a cause of exploitation of children below 18 years.

Poverty is a major social issue within Pakistan and as a result children are made to work in various industries in order to support their financially poor parents. The status of the family directly influences the choices available to a child and obviously if a family is extremely poor with comparatively less resources then consequently, each member, be it a child or an adult will be required to work and bring in money in order to survive.

The economic and family status in the rural areas of Pakistan is quite low and as a result children are forced to work in various manufacturing and tertiary industries and are also over-exploited.

61.2 per cent of Pakistanis are illiterate and poor education resulting in limited exposure to human rights is a major cause of child labor.

Education is a sociological variable and of extreme importance because it emancipates a person from the grip of ignorance. However, most people in the rural areas have no access to educational institutions and thus a child learns the tricks of trade from his father and instead of gaining education he chooses to work as a labor or is at times forced by parents due to their own lack of basic knowledge.

Pakistan does not have sound educational system under which a child can be adequately socialized into becoming a productive member of society. Education is not treated as a priority and inevitably child exploitation continues within our nation.

Girls and boys are forced to work as domestic servants in the homes of the upper middle class or the richer elite. Thus, class divisions become more prominent with the exploitation of the poor by the rich and this leads to an inequitable distribution of wealth and income.

Pakistan is going through a serious social stratification problem and the rich continues to get richer whereas the poor continues to get poorer. Girls exploited within the rich households are paid less, and often physically harassed by the male owners. This leads to further sex and gender related issues and thus child labor needs to be strongly curtailed.

Pakistan needs a strong government and political structure to address the issue of child labor. Pakistani government and political parties don't consider a child labour as a serious issue for them. There are loopholes in the political structure of Pakistan and a weak government is a main cause of the denial of rights of the citizens of a country. Therefore, children's rights are largely ignored and deliberately avoided.

For a positive change a democracy is needed which will fight against child labor through reformative action and laws and regulations.

In Pakistan, seven per cent of working children suffer from health problems and are physically abused as well by their owners. These are all structural problems, which not only accelerate the rate of child labor but also set a precedent for other developing nations to follow.

During the year 2001 and 2002, the government of Pakistan carried out a series of consultation of tripartite partners and stakeholders (labour department, trade unions, employers, and NGOs) in all the provinces.

The objective was to identify the occupations and the categories of work, which may be considered as hazardous under the provisions of ILO Convention 182. The present government in Pakistan has made elementary education compulsory. Along with this, the government has distributed free books in primary schools so that parents, who cannot afford their children's school expenses, send their children to schools.

The major point is that this decision must be acted upon at all levels. There is a strict need to stop child labor in this country. Awareness must be raised and the attention of parents ought to be diverted to the education of their children.

Child labor laws should be put into practice strictly. In addition, the educational system of the country must be reshaped and restructured according to national development goals.

The orphans and other deserving children must be helped financially on a prolonged basis. It is also essential to eliminate child labor from the country. The political, economical, and social systems of the country are need to be reshaped and such steps that make child labor in this country a crime should be taken.

They should bring on the well-being of a layman, good governance and end to exploitative thinking. If we succeed to act upon these principles, our country can easily get rid of this problem i.e. child labor. The agreement that has recently been approved by Pakistan, Norway, and ILO to eradicate child labor must be given importance and we hope that our rulers must put this agreement into practice using all means at their disposal.