ISLAMABAD: “The issues of children are grossly neglected in this country even though they constitute 50 per cent of the total population,” this message of Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz was read out at an event organsied by Wafaqi Mohtasib, UNICEF and ILO on Monday at a local hotel to mark the World Day Against Child Labour as he went with the PM to Saudi Arabia.
“Being our country’s future, the protection of children in Pakistan is a constitutional responsibility of the state as well as our collective responsibility as citizens,” the adviser said in the message.
Speaking on the occasion, National Commissioner for Children Ejaz A Qureshi said, “The task of conducting a survey to determine the exact number of children working as labourers in the country is gigantic as of 95 million children in Pakistan, almost 30 per cent or 30 million are living under crushing poverty.”
It is a long journey, but we have the resolve, and feel the urgent need to address these issues through individual and collective efforts, he added.
It is pertinent to mention that on one hand the government makes tall claims about protecting the rights of children in the country, while on the other it does not even bother to collect data on child labour in the country. Instead, it relies on estimated data collected by international agencies.
The last National Child Labour Survey was carried out 21 years ago in 1996 in which the total number of child labour in the country was around 3.3 million, after which the government has not yet carried out any comprehensive survey to find out the exact number of children working as labourers in Pakistan. However, a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2015 estimated that 5.7 million children between the ages of 10 and 17 years were labourers in Pakistan, reflecting a drastic rise of 73 per cent over 19 years.
An official of the Ministry of Human Rights, on condition of anonymity, said, “Almost all of the provincial governments had allocated budgets to their respective labour departments for carrying out the survey. So far, except for Punjab, none of the provinces have started working on it.”
The official said that under the 18th Amendment, Ministry of Labour and Manpower was devolved to the provinces.
“Though the amount had been allocated to the provinces to carry out the survey, lack of interest was an impediment in its completion,” said the official.
When The Express Tribune contacted Sindh Labour and Human Resources Department Secretary Saeed Ahmed Awan, he said, “The Sindh government had allocated Rs5.5million last year for the said purpose. However, the funds have not been released yet, but hopefully the amount will be released this year.”
Awan further said that UNICEF is also providing some financial assistance in this regard.
“We have started initial work by constituting committees for the purpose,” he said.
An official from the labour department in Balochistan, who wished not to be named, said, “We were having some financial issues but hopefully we will start work on it soon.”
Meanwhile, civil society members on the World Day against Child Labour on Monday demanded of the government to carry out a comprehensive child labour survey across the country to obtain the facts and figures to eradicate the menace of child labour from the country.
SPARC Executive Director Sadia Hussain said, “While having data on child labour would not only help gauge the extent of this injustice against millions of children, it would also help policymakers apply targeted interventions to help curb this menace.”