The government of Punjab on July 14, has enacted an ordinance banning the employment of children and defined strict regulations for the employment of adolescents aged 15-18. As Pakistan is regularly near the top of the list of countries where child labour is widely prevalent, this was a necessary step to curb the exploitation of children and adolescents in hazardous or illegal industries. The Ordinance’s primary purpose is to protect children from bondage, trafficking and abuse. It also defines labour laws specific to the employment of adolescent workers by limiting their number of working hours, setting break times and listing the industries in which they cannot be employed due to health and safety risks. The law holds both the employers and parents/guardians responsible and sets out fines and imprisonment as possible punishments for violation.
The employment of child labour is a problem which has its roots in several interlinked factors. Employers select young workers because they can be paid less for the same work and can be exploited more easily. Meanwhile, many children are forced into the labour market early because of poverty. The stark reality of life for many of the poorest families in this country is that every member of the household must contribute income to avoid homelessness and starvation. There is also a thriving bonded labour and trafficking market in Pakistan and children are more likely than adults to be caught in its net. Then there is the problem of education. Although government schools are plentiful, the education they provide hardly yields work opportunities which are already sparse even for the highly qualified. Technical education could provide work opportunities but a large portion of the country’s industry especially small and medium-sized enterprises are under-regulated with regard to working conditions and adherence to labour laws. For the new ordinance to be successful, not only will the authorities have to strive to implement it, there must also be efforts towards improving the education sector and job creation in the economy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2016.
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