Up to 12 million children — half of them under the age of 10 — are engaged in various forms of child labour across the country, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Spark), raising concern over the growing incidence of child labour.
Marking the World Day against Child Labour, child rights activists raised concerns over the issue and Spark held a press briefing to address the issues related to increased incidence of child labour across the country. According to Spark, “regrettably there is a lack of legislative measures to counter the menace”.
The Employment of Children Act (ECA), which overlooks the employment of children in the country, bans child labour in four occupations and 34 processes which it lists as ‘hazardous’. It also defines a child as an individual under the age of 14 only — a cause of concern for child rights activists who claim that the ECA only limits the employment of children under the age of 14 in hazardous occupations and does not ban it completely.
But work is under way at the Punjab Labour Department which intends to introduce the Prohibition of the Employment of Children Act (PECA), which is currently in its drafting phase. PECA is expected to completely replace the ECA, which according to the Labour department’s Centre for Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (CIWE) Director Saeed Awan does not set a minimum age of employment.
Awan, while talking to The Express Tribune, said that domestic child labour is currently not listed in the banned occupations for children. A concern also raised by child rights activist who term “domestic child labour” as one of the worst forms of child labour in the informal sector. Awan said that he regrets the fact that in the absence of relevant data and monitory mechanism, domestic child labour will be hard to abolish.
Sparc has also demanded that the age of employment of children be raised from 14 to 16 under the ECA, especially in light of the 18th Amendment after which Article 25-A has been introduced — providing children up to the age of 16 for their ‘fundamental right’ to free education.
Iftikhar Mubarak, the focal person for the Child Rights Movement’s Punjab chapter, said that though the ECA defined a child as anyone below the age of 14, Article 25-A of the Constitution which offers free and compulsory education, defines a child as one below the age of 16.
He argued that if Article 25-A stated that education of children up to the age of 16 was a state responsibility, it would only be in violation of this law that children are being allowed to work after age 14 — invariably neglecting their education.
“How can a child under the age of 16 engage in labour and focus on his/her education,” questioned Mubarak.
“There is no structured mechanism to monitor child labour,” he said. “Whatever mechanism exists is ill-equipped and under-staffed to monitor child labour.”
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.