LAHORE: Jail Road, which is usually chock-a-block full during the day, is accommodating locals who are out and about the town.
Under the streetlight, there is a makeshift café where a 10-year-old child is serving tea. It is midnight and one can hear distinct voices repeating “Chotay bhai, please bring one more cup of tea.”
Supreme Court Lawyer Humayun Faiz Rasool said people around the world are observing World Day against Child Labour today. In Pakistan, however, most children do not even that they have rights. “Child labour laws are being openly violated in the heart of the city,” he lamented.
According to the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Ordinance 2016, the government has set parameters which do not provide cover to adolescents above 14. This is clearly against global laws, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Children’s Fund and UNICECO.
“Our children are the worst examples of child labour laws,” he said.
There are millions of children, who work as domestic help and the government has failed to implement labour laws, he said. The lawyer added the situation is unacceptable as most kids are subjected to physical and mental torture, sexual abuse or trafficking.
Labour Education Foundation (LEF) Coordinator Jalwat Ali agreed that children in Pakistan are living in the worst conditions.
The population of Ahmed Town – an urban slum – is almost 40,000, she said, adding around 5,000 children below the age of 12 earn to support their families. “We cannot eliminate child labour without social reforms, abolition of poverty, proper social security system and implementation of the minimum wage system,” she said.
In 2015, the Punjab government set a target to send all children to schools and abolish all child labour in Punjab. When contacted, Provincial Minister for Education Rana Mashud Ahmed Khan said due to some indifferences and lack of coordination with the federal government, Punjab could not achieve its target of sending all children to school.
“The Punjab government has set a new goal and is committed to send all children to school by 2018,” he said.
A country-wide labour movement called Red workers Front (RWF) has compiled data of child labour. RWF Coordinator Adam Pal said around 20 million children are working as labour in the country and 50% of them are below the age of 10.
Children in Pakistan work at brick kilns, weave carpets, work in glass bangle factories, apart from making leather and surgical instruments. They are even involved in coal mining, according to the US department of labour.
“It is a wakeup call for all working classes as poverty, unemployment, hunger, destitution and ignorance has made the system rotten,” he said. “Only socialism can bring the needed change in the lives of working-class people.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2017.