The New Face of Slavery


Danish Bhutto

Slavery persists in different forms during different epochs of time, echoing the famous timeless adage- the more things change, the more they remain the same. Despite the evolving patterns of the globe, the enduring stigma of slavery permeates our social fabric, manifesting as a widespread issue transcending time and appearing in various forms.
During modern times, child labour is the manifest of slavery. Its paradoxical reality is underscored by UNICEF’s estimation that around 160 million children were dumped into the morass of child labour by 2020 alone. It also reveals that approximately 1 in every 10 children globally is caught in this uncertain predicament. Moreover, the unsettling reality extends from the fact that not all work done by children qualifies as child labour; rather, it encompasses only the activities that harm children, mentally and physically, impeding their education and fundamental rights.
These conditions often emerge when children are subjected to exploitation in the industrial sector, agriculture, mining, and domestic work, perpetuating a cycle of injustice in society. Thus, the persistence of slavery, albeit in new forms, continues to haunt the globe.
Child labor has emerged as a recognized violation of children’s rights and a stain on humanity’s conscience and this pervasive issue casts a shadow over the lives of millions of children worldwide where regrettably, Pakistan is no exception. Despite legal safeguards and international obligations, child labour not only persists throughout the country but, alarmingly, Pakistan ranks number three in the world among the countries with the highest prevalence of child labour.
According to the Research Society of International Law, around 16 million children in Pakistan are victims of child labour. This unaddressed remorse is intertwined with several factors of society, including unemployment among adults, the predicament of poverty, underdevelopment of educational infrastructure, and the surge of price hikes.
Poverty outweighs all the other factors. Families hit by poor economic conditions, bring some extra money into the house and leave their children in the miasma of child labour. It is also observed that underdeveloped and developing countries are dumped deeper into this quagmire than countries with better economic and social conditions.
The tragic story of Zohra Shah resonates deeply, shedding light on the harrowing reality of children ensnared in the cycle of child labour. In 2020, the eight-year-old slave was brutally tortured to death for mistakenly releasing her master’s parrots in Bahria Town, Rawalpindi. Her tender age and innocence were ruthlessly exploited, serving as a stark reminder of this prevalent issue taking young lives.
For Zohra’s mother, it was “the biggest regret” of her life to send Zohra for domestic work. Zohra’s father had lost his job, and the hand-to-mouth family was unable to manage their expenses, which ended up taking little Zohra’s life. Zohra’s incident speaks volumes of the genesis that lies behind the outset of child labour.
Moreover, unemployment and underdevelopment of educational infrastructure further exacerbate the issue of child labour, creating fertile ground for its persistence. In a country, where adults struggle to find stable employment, families often resort to sending their children for domestic work to supplement household income, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and exploitation.
Additionally, inadequate educational infrastructure deprives children of access to quality education, leaving them with few alternatives to exploitative labour. This underscores the urgent need for holistic interventions that address not only the symptoms but also the underlying structural factors driving child labour, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to realize their full potential in a safe and nurturing environment.
Altogether, addressing the scourge of child labour demands a comprehensive approach, involving all state and non-state actors. From an atomic family that contributes to the scourge of child labour, to a grand entity of the state, the root causes must not only be identified but also reformed, decreeing such mechanisms that hold perpetrators accountable. Let Zohra’s story catalyze change, inspiring us to redouble our efforts in building a future where every child can flourish free from exploitation and injustice.
Investing in education and vocational training programs, particularly for vulnerable communities, can empower children and their families to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation. Additionally, raising awareness and fostering a culture of child rights and protection are essential in shifting societal norms and attitudes towards child labour.
International cooperation and collaboration are crucial in tackling cross-border challenges associated with child labour, including supply chain exploitation and trafficking. By working together, the global community can create a safer and more equitable future for all children, free from the shackles of exploitative labour practices.
The writer is a freelance columnist.