Street children took centre stage performing a stage play about child domestic labour. They sang Allama Iqbal’s iconic “Lab pe aati hai dua” (a prayer on my lips) at ILO Auditorium on the tenth World Day Against Child Labour.
The eleven participating children were recruited from Children Rights Network Pakistan’s Communication Learning Centre, which teaches them primary learning and language skills.
The children had a month to practice and reaped the benefits of their hard work in the form appreciation and applause.
Later, despite a powerful dust storm gushing in to the hi-tea marquee, the young actors enjoyed pizzas, samosas and soft drinks.
“I had a really great time learning the lines and performing the play in front of such a big audience,” said Ansar, 10, as he ate a slice of pizza. His younger brother Ehsan proudly declared that he was relieved he remembered all his lines.
The children’s participation in the event gave the speeches that followed a face, and showed participants the effects of child labour firsthand.
Representatives of Unicef, Unesco and the ILO noted that there has been considerable progress in Pakistan and the world over, with 30 million fewer children working worldwide than a decade ago. However, there is still a long way to go as 215 million children are still trapped in child labour.
ILO Officer in Charge Margaret Reade Rounds said that according to their estimates, 20% more teenagers between 15 to 17 years old will be forced to take up working by 2013.
The ILO, Rounds said, believes that decent work for parents is the key to eradicating child labour, as “it is a means to achieve social justice, enables enterprises to thrive and provides men and women with productive and fairly paid jobs so they can educate their children”.
Unicef Communications Specialist Abdul Sami Malik concurred, saying that while most families understand the value of education for their children, many feel compelled to send them to work out of absolute necessity.
Therefore if families are made economically self-sufficient, Malik said, there would be no need to send children out to work. “Safe, accessible and high quality education that is valued by families is the best way to raise enrolment and retain students so that they are prevented from being economically violated,” he added.
UNESCO representative Roshan Chitrakar highlighted the loopholes embedded within the constitution and its implementation. Chitrakar said that despite health, wellbeing, food, clothing, shelter and free education being guaranteed in the constitution, there are millions of children who are deprived of each and are instead subjected to child labour.
Chitrakar and other representatives also commented on the proactive role educated young people must play to eliminate child labour.
In that vein, university students partook in a debate competition on the topic of “Human Rights and Social Justice: Let’s End Child Labour”. Komal Arshad from Fatima Jinnah Women’s University won first place, Maryam Saeed won second place, and Aiza Masood came in third.
Correction: The name of Children Rights Network Pakistan had been incorrectly mentioned in an earlier of version of this article. The correction has been made.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.