While international agencies, like the International Labour Organisation (ILO), are aiming to end, within the next five years, the practice of children, below the age of 14, working in hazardous environments, to do so in countries like Pakistan, still remains a challenge. Pakistan’s National Child Labour Survey, conducted way back in 1996, found that 3.3 million children between the ages of five and 14 were working full-time in different fields across the country. Subsequent estimates have shown that this number would be considerably higher now.
Children are found working in sectors with hazardous working conditions, especially harmful for children. Most common jobs with such conditions include work in mines, in the cement industry, in textile and glass factories, carpet weaving, marbles, pesticides, filling gas cylinders, crushing stones, and fishing in deep waters. It remains very hard to eradicate this evil, all at once, from a society where so many households live below the poverty line, and hence the economic need that as many people work as possible.
Moreover, both naturally-induced disasters and man-made conflicts subject vulnerable populations, including the poor, women and children to further exploitation. Child labour was thus rightly feared to surge after the record-breaking devastation from floods last year. A recent report by the UK-based charity Save the Children has confirmed these fears, estimating that the number of children forced to work has risen up by a third in areas worst hit by the floods. With their parents still unable to find jobs, children are being sent out to dangerous areas to scour for desperately needed income. Moreover, 10 million children in flood-affected areas are also being denied the food they need to survive and nearly a quarter of the children are suffering from acute malnourishment.
This year again, floods have wreaked havoc in the lives of over five million people in Sindh and Balochistan, and the threat to children, again having to bear the brunt of livelihood of already- vulnerable households, remains an unfortunate reality.
The government of Pakistan ratified the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (182) in August 2001, and is obligated to take steps to remove children from hazardous occupations. However, agreeing to international conventions is never enough. What was subsequently required was for the government to show its resolve and come up with effective steps for improving the state of children’s rights in the country and enforce a ban on hazardous occupations under the Employment of Children Act 1991.
The passage of the 18th Amendment and the consequential devolution to the provinces, implies that the passage of such proposed legislation as The National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill of 2009, The Criminal Law Amendment Bill of 2009, The Charter of Child Rights Bill of 2009, The Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill of 2010, and The Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill of 2009, may be further delayed. In any case, effective legal frameworks for the protection of children’s rights, at the provincial level, are now needed more than ever, if we are to fulfil our international obligations.
Our decision-makers must realise that the exploitation of children at an early age can have dangerous long-term implications. In general terms, the most obvious of these would be that the existing environment is such that it is not exactly conducive for children to be able to grow up as productive citizens of society.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2011.
More in OpinionThe making of the modern maulvi — V