Deplorable Conditions of Child Labor

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Zubair Ali Soomro

June 12 is commemorated as the day against child labour, with an aim to spread awareness regarding child labour and devising policies to eliminate it.
It is sine quo non to ponder over the deplorable conditions of child labour in Pakistan. Estimated 12 million children are entrapped in the web of child labor in Pakistan, mostly working in brick kilns and agricultural lands, as per data available for 2017-18 by the Human Rights in Pakistan Report. The figure has surged over the years.
This is a pressing issue regarding children that is not only a humanitarian crisis that strips them of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being but also deprives them of education, leisure, and a carefree childhood. Consequently, this creates a perpetual vicious cycle of generation to generation child labor. Questions arise: what drives child labor? Why is Pakistan still unable to manumit children from the shackle of child labor? Can laws be implemented efficiently in a poverty-stricken country? Has Pakistan any plans to exterminate it, and is it possible?
The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that is mentally, physically, morally, or socially dangerous and harmful to children; and that interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school or obliging them to leave school prematurely.
The primary driver of child labor in Pakistan is poverty. Due to poverty, they are compelled to work in hazardous places to meet the financial requirements of their families. The meager earnings of their parents do not sustain them properly in this high inflation, which results in constraining them to opt for labor rather than holding books in their delicate hands. As per a report by the World Bank, about 10 million Pakistanis may fall below the poverty line with a staggering 26 per cent inflation rate for the fiscal year because of slothful economic growth and an increasing burden of labor force. According to research, a disturbing number of 700,000 children between the ages of 10 and 14 work in brick kilns and agricultural lands throughout the country.
Apart, numerous children are forced to beg in metropolitan cities to earn sustenance for their families or exploited by gangs in this regard. In any case, the harm is on the end of innocent children. Also, bonded labor is prevalent in Pakistan despite being abolished by the UN supplementary convention on the abolition of slavery. Although no latest data is available in this regard, the estimated number by UNICEF is 250,000 in brick kilns only. An equally disturbing number is also engaged in agriculture bonded labor, where entire family, including children, works in exchange for debt taken from the landlord.
The exploitation does not end here; it goes further in the case of home maids in Pakistan who are tyrannized at the hands of their employers. The highlighted incident of a maid in the home of a civil judge who was tortured by the judge’s wife gives a true account of how the children are brutalized just to meet the daily expenses of their family. In the case in hand, the victim was employed at the judge’s house for Rs10,000 per month.
The FIR states that the girl was infected injuries on her head besides wounds all around the face, both arms and legs. Also, it adds that her tooth and ribs were broken. This grave situation highlights the side effects of poverty that constrain children to stand shoulder to shoulder with their parents to meet their financial needs.
Additionally, another case highlights the same. The case of Andleeb Fatima in Islamabad enunciates that she had been employed as a helper in a house where she used to be beaten by her employer. She was also burnt by her employer with a scorching spoon and detained without being given food. The list does not end here of such horrific cases, be it the incident of a girl in Pir’s house in Ranipur or beating to death of a 10-year-old girl in Punjab. In all such cases, the essence of employing children is poverty that has compelled their parents to adjust expenses.
Simply put, a country that tailors better economic policies; strengthening its economy, expanding revenue generating projects, providing employment to its people who enter into job market annually, providing free and better health care, providing free and practical education, controlling inflation, working on grass root levels to contribute in the well-being of the society at whole, can exterminate child labor but the country like Pakistan that is unstable economically and not controlling inflation will surely fail in attempt to terminate it, because the primary driver of child labor in Pakistan is poverty, so as long as poverty is not terminated, it’s just a dream to exterminate child labor.
Lack of education is the second driver of child labor in Pakistan, because numerous people do not give their children proper education so that they may earn better jobs and sustenance for their family or invest themselves in better business with better understanding.
In both cases, families still require some financial relief from the government to afford their children’s studies and time there. If a child goes to school or college, parents have to support him financially; if not, then support themselves financially to fulfill the basic needs of the family, so in either way, they need money or some relief to let their children continue education and refrain them from child labor.
On the other hand, education plays a pivotal role in comprehending the grim consequences of child labor that may perpetually transfer from generation to generation just to feed their family. In some cases, if a family can support their family financially to some extent, provide education to their children, and refrain from child labor, but due to lack of future understanding of the grievous consequences of child labor, they do not send their children to schools rather cause them to be employed.
However, the constitution of Pakistan, under Article 11, forbids the employment of children under the age of 14 in factories, mines, or any hazardous place. Besides, the Employment of Children Act of 1991 also forbids any children under 14 years of age to work in some specified hazardous places that may include toxic environments. It also specifies that these children cannot work continuously for more than three hours, nor can they work overtime or at night.
It emphasizes the mental and physical well-being of such children. Apart from them, provincial legislations also forbid child labor. Woefully speaking, the country with high inflation and poverty cannot manage to implement them properly because if they are implemented without giving appropriate relief to the public, poor people will further fall into the trap of poverty, which may result in spending days and nights without food for them.
Pakistan stepped forward towards eliminating child labor. She increased penalties for employing child labor. Following this, the inspection team raided brick kilns and other hazardous places to arrest perpetrators of child labor, and to some extent, they were successful in their tasks. Also, task forces were made to figure out flaws in laws pertaining to child labor, fix them, and devise further policies and plans to curb child labor. But, the advancement of child labor is obvious; each can observe in their surroundings how effective these task forces were and the implementation of laws.
Apart from them, international laws also provide for child labor. According to Convention, 1973 (No. 138), the minimum age for child labor is 15 years (13 years for light work). For hazardous works, it specifies 18 years of age (16 under strict restrictions). The Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999 (No 182) forbids employment of children in some specific places, such as using children for human trafficking, using children for pornography, and all forms of slavery, etc.
Despite such laws, the result of the elimination of child labor is not satisfactory because of slothful economic growth that further exacerbates poverty and inflation, which resultantly hinders the proper implementation of laws.
To curb child labor in Pakistan, the first and foremost thing is to lift people out of poverty or provide them with basic needs so that they may not be constrained to engage their children in child labor. Besides, the government should work with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and NGOs in this regard to eliminate child labor effectively and disseminate awareness about the hazardous consequences of child labor.

The writer is a lawyer in Karachi.
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