Causes and remedial measures


Mar 08 - 14, 2004





Developing countries including Pakistan are facing child labour which is spreading fast despite efforts to eradicate it. Child labour is amply visible if one goes around shopping areas, repair-shops, workshops etc. on school days. Young children found there in most cases fall in the category of child labour. Most of these children would be boys as the girls of this age are mostly employed in the houses as domestic help. Another way to witness the child labour is to drive slowly on city roads and see how many child beggars and/or child 'vendors' are seen at each road-crossing. These children might be doing it for the family. However, in some cases the possibility of working for a 'contractor' cannot be ruled out. It is feared that the number of children in such unenviable position is growing and probably soon even such 'jobs' might not be easily available. Situation might improve if the problem is understood well with its numerous manifestations and then the real root-causes are resolutely removed by the government.

Occasional press reports regarding suicides by the jobless or sale of kidneys by the poor, or release of the 'bonded labour' by the honourable courts from the kiln-owners/landlords, etc manifest the pervasive poverty and unemployment. Some might not agree fully but rising unemployment is due to our embracing globalization, market economy and the resultant right-sizing in industry and businesses. Lack of employment opportunities obliges many people to fall back on savings or the assets inherited, the sale of which might not sustain the family for long. For many families daily wage might not be enough to provide even the food. The government's social security net including Zakat or Baitul Maal is inadequate and does not cover vast number of destitute families. Circumstances such as these force many parents to make their children work for a living at an early age, sometimes as young as five years. For them child labour is an attempt, though considered undesirable, to survive and if they are lucky to crawl out of the clutches of abject poverty.

Due to over supply, the businesses or workshops or rich families would select child workers only after a good reference. Initially, the child workers may be earning little or nothing but the parents would not mind that provided the children were fed by the employer once or twice a day. Cast off clothes, even of odd sizes, are good enough to protect them from the elements. The employers, at least some of them, treat these children roughly and the duty hours are generally longer than those prescribed for the grown-up labourers. The employers presumably think that they are doing it for the good of the children and sometimes they are right. The children, working as helpers in shops or workshops, learn one trade or the other. In due course, the children become tough as well as worldly-wise and these characteristics would help them in their later life. After, persistently working for about 5-10 years, they hope to be earning reasonable wages to sustain them and possibly their families.

The girl children coming from poor and destitute families are the worst sufferers. They are generally discriminated when it comes to food or education. So they usually maintain poor health compared to their brothers. Even in these days of free primary or middle education, many of them are seldom sent to schools. From early age they start as house maids/child sitters and continue working even when they grow up. Duty hours are long throughout the year. Some of these children while working for the rich families learn to read and write. Sometimes the kind employers help them by providing books or by sending the young maids for education to the schools. But after school they have to do some work as well. Such children are lucky. Majority of these young maids is mistreated by member of the employing family. In case the maids stay with the family day and night, the duty hours are endless. Some times they are beaten up due to flimsy reasons. There is no guarantee against abuse by male members of the family. These children suffer both emotionally and physically at the tender age when they should be attending proper schools.

It is not uncommon that some of the parents decide to send their young male children to shops, workshops, tailor shop, etc. as helpers. This more often happens in cases where the young boys drop out from primary or middle schools. They have learnt to read and write. However, due to unpleasant experiences at school they develop a sort of 'animosity' against teachers or the school system. Many are often reluctant even to attend some other school, if there is a choice. Their parents expect that in the workshops the children would learn the trade in a few years and then become earning members of the family. Children from broken families of lower income/poor classes are similarly brought as helpers in the workshops. Depending upon their aptitude, some of these children would develop into expert technicians and support their younger brothers and sisters in life. Majority of them would be mediocre technical hands but capable enough to earn their living. The rest would probably drop out even from these workshops and are lost to the streets or sadly to the drugs. All these children deserve help and rehabilitation.

There is a different sort of 'child labour' where the young children, mostly boys, after school and during holidays assist in the family profession. The sons of a farmer would work on the fields, the sons of a shopkeeper would attend the customers at the shop and the sons of a workshop owner might be assisting their father in one way or the other. In such families, the girls mostly assist their mothers in the domestic work as a large number of families do not or cannot afford employing a house maid. Such labour is labour of love. They learn one or other trade, are gainfully engaged before eyes of their parents for few hours a day and develop their mental and physical faculties. Most of these young boys or girls are also good at studies. However, division of agricultural land over time, inflation, growing unemployment and other similar factors are seriously disturbing the family life style as well as income. If the parents are pushed near or below the poverty line, these young children would be most affected and possibly end up as child labour.

The cottage and small industries particularly in the unorganized sector reportedly engage large number of young boys and girls in the production or packing process. Tender age children are exposed to production processes and practices that are harmful/dangerous for these workers. These industries mostly produce diverse products including handicrafts and the owners probably make handsome profits. The makers of hand-knotted carpets and value-added textile products are also in this category. The work is arduous against wages which are meagre. The children workers are mostly exploited as they are generally docile. The children continue suffering as in many cases they have no other option. They are mostly deprived of the opportunity to educational and recreational facilities meant for their age groups.

It is heartening to know that remedial efforts, though small and insignificant, are afoot to tackle child labour. Due to measures taken jointly by the industry, the government and the international agencies child labour has been successfully eradicated from the manufacturing of footballs. Attempts are said to be afoot to eradicate child labour from the manufacture of surgical instruments. The Board of Directors of Pakistan Baitul Mal (PBM) in their 40th meeting on 10th December 2003 reportedly discussed that in the coming two years 100 more National Centres for Rehabilitation of Child Labour (NCRCL) and one diversified centre in each district will be set up. It was said that so far, NCRCL had registered 6,240 students out of which 3,296 students had successfully completed their education at primary level. Amongst the passed out students 2,697 were now studying in the middle level. The Board directed the Managing Director to launch another project for further training of passed out students who would be given higher education as well as vocational training to stand on their own feet.

The Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) established the Child Labor Education Program to facilitate the children in obtaining access to education relevant to their needs and personal growth. Six to fourteen year old children, whether working or not, can get free admission at its Child Development Center. The CDC, founded on the needs identified by the working and street children as well as communities of Sher Shah in Karachi, assists dropouts to complete their remaining education and provides educational and recreational facilities for working children. The children who are forced to work at a very tender age usually lack an interest in learning. Such children are motivated to create a keen interest towards education. From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. the CDC offers basic facilities like a clean, friendly and pressure free environment where children have access to recreational, hygienic and educational services. Education gives clarity of thinking and makes it much easier to understand and perform the work to the best of ability. The CDC now provides education for its students at six levels starting from primary education to Matriculation. Those students who complete Class Five are facilitated in giving the requisite standardized school exam. This examination, once passed, enables the child to be streamlined into the formal schooling system. The CDC program needs support from individuals and organizations that can provide technical support, volunteer help and material and financial assistance.

The President, speaking at the Universal Children's Day function on 20th November last called for a proactive public-private partnership for sustained development of children. He said that 700,000 to 800,000 students studying in religious schools needed formal education to become doctors and engineers. The President also signed a pledge urging the stakeholders for concerted efforts and mobilizing the masses for the better future of children. At this occasion, the Prime Minister had reportedly said that the children were country's greatest asset and called upon the society, NGOs, philanthropists, media, corporate sector, parents and teachers to come forward and play their role to improve the lives of the children. The government is therefore urged to take urgent measures that promise increased income to the parents and relief to child workers, as under:



1- The federal government to rectify all United Nation resolutions pertaining to elimination of Child Labour and to implement the same throughout the country. All the provincial governments also pass/update the laws in this regard.

2- The priority areas for ending the child labour are the trades or manufacturing processes which involve risky operations and are considered dangerous even for the grown up and experienced labour. Practical steps might be taken throughout the country to remove child labour to safer and easier trades in the first instance. While working they should be provided education opportunities.

3- Economic and social conditions of the parents must be improved on priority basis. The parents once they are out of poverty would normally not wish their young children to miss education and instead start physical labour to earn some money for the family. This process can be expedited by: (i) Regularizing all the Kachhi Abadis and giving ownership titles to the people living there; (ii) Distribution of the government land to the landless farmers and plots of land to all the rural homeless for building their own houses; and (iii) Filling all the vacancies on merit in the federal and provincial governments as well as in the subordinate departments and agencies.

4- The society at large might be invited to come forward and start rehabilitation programmes for child workers and their poor parents. Incentives in the form of Appreciation Certificates and exemption from Income Tax may be announced to such persons who excel in offering part time education opportunities to the young children currently working in their establishments in one way or the other.

5- Child education schemes such as initiated by the Sindh Education Foundation and Pakistan Baitul Maal might be replicated fast in other areas through funding and manpower support. Other such schemes not yet well known should also be encouraged. However, there should be no pilferage of funds.

6- The government might consider starting media campaign to educate the parents as well as the owners of the shops, factories or workshops and big houses to care for the children in their employment.

Pakistan as a respectable country would be able to achieve its due status in the polity of nations when child labour is eliminated, women are emancipated by removing gender disparity, primary education is effectively universalized and abject poverty is removed. These are related issues and efforts to tackle every one would have beneficial effect on all. The policy planners as well as the officials entrusted with the implementation of beneficial schemes are urged to realize that the working children, tender like saplings, requires loving care and protection as if these were their own children. Sincere efforts by the government and the society can also attract guidance and financial support from international donors and agencies.