Oct 19 - 25, 2009

Sindh assembly reverberated with the issue of child labor recently when parliamentarians of ruling political parities brought in to house's notice growing menace of child labor in the province. Labor ministry revealed that more than 4,000 child labors were recovered during last one-year, and it handed them over to a non-government organization. The revelation is usual on the face of it since child labor and bonded child labor is a common phenomenon in Pakistan, and people are so accustomed to underage workers that they feel them an unavoidable part of life. Social change observers fear that tolerance for child labor is increasing in Pakistan, berating companies advertising their brands with child labor character. Poverty can be counted on top of the reasons but commercial exploitation of children who give employer wage arbitrage is an important reason. Natural and manmade disasters are two other reasons pushing more children to labor.

The timing the recent disclosure of child labor erupted however gave a warning to planners to rethink about how to prevent destruction of nation's future in the midst of galloping poverty, armed conflicts, and social injustices. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child urges "protection of child from work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development". A report by International Labor Organization underlines the ways children under 15 are being exploited in developing as well as developed countries. Among others, it underlines use of children in armed conflicts.

Recently, United Nations Development Program launched a program for good governance in collaboration with Federal Ombudsman in Pakistan. The relevant portion of this program is its aim to redress complaints lodged by children against federal and provincial departments and institutions. With an estimated total cost of Rs200 million this program will include establishment of a 'Children Complaint Centre' in Islamabad that has an objective to glean grievances of children against violations of their rights or flouting of rules related to children by various government departments such as education centers, hospitals, recreational spots, etc. So far so good, but the mechanism to collect complaints is modern as well as impractical considering the low rate of literacy that does not permit majority of parents or guardians if they are to lodge complaint on behalf of their children to write a letter, let alone scribing an electronic email. Both means could be palatable only for privileged class and not for those who might be full of complaints about violations of rights. Instead of starting from the end, this program should be like funding for awareness campaign about rights, as is there a doubt that most of us do not know about our rights? By the way, how many literates rise up to write a complaint in case of their encounter with something unlawful? Very rarely, we do that because of unawareness about what a governance system owes to its citizens.

This is about children (in majority) who without guidance from elders cannot discern between right and wrong. How can one expect a response from children who are forced in to toilsome affairs - forced labors and when half of adults could not read and write? Dropout rate of children enrolled in formal education is very high in Pakistan and about 33 percent of those who are enrolled leave schools without even becoming able to read and write.

Poverty is an evil that pushes one in to the crushing jaws of callous need-satisfaction battle. This evil is created because of economic and social policies snafus. Getting a fuel from brazen class differentiation poverty is rising in Pakistan because of mainly unabated prices of necessities of lives. Governance system has other priorities to romance with than to make correction in the price control mechanism, giving profit makers freehand to fix prices of their products at will. Today's Pakistan economy has gotten a way out crisis-like situation what was perniciously thrusting it in to deep chaos one year back. Although genuine economic drivers like export-industry and investment have not come in to action the economy has inched ahead of external fiscal imbalances caused due to freefall of foreign reserves and incapacity to pay import bills of more than three months in recent past.

One wonders then why people are depriving of reliefs for what little has been corrected. And, why despite improvement in inflation does poverty show no sign of coming down? Simply, an answer could be traced in the untrammeled power companies/traders are enjoying while setting prices of products, frequently capriciously. If laws bind them to exercise sensibility while setting prices, some use untraceable maneuver to create artificial shortfall of consumer goods in response. The latest move of electricity tariff increment across the country including Karachi where a private company (seventy-percent-ownership) operates power generation, transmission, and distribution dealt price hike ridden people blow to the stomach. Those electricity consumers who are already struggling to foot the bill of Rs3000 to 4000 per month would now have to defray Rs6000 per month, minimum pay scale of labor set by the labor division. People find no sense in increment in electricity tariffs in Karachi since the power manager fell short of public expectations and it has failed in minimizing distribution and line losses.

Prices of other consumer goods are also not based on definable formula. They are increased on a slightest indication of cost escalation. However, people see eccentric decrease in prices of products that are otherwise not vital e.g. telecom products. Within four years (2005-09), 14 to 15 million people have fallen in to poverty trap due to increase in foods and oil prices, told Federal Minister for Finance to National Assembly. Therefore, living on an average two dollar a day cannot afford a person another option except infringing child protection laws. Only government support can eliminate child labor and this support is needed in providing children with formal education. It is rightly said that education for all and elimination of child labor is interlinked.