KARACHI: Of the 35 million soccer balls stitched in Pakistan, child labour produces one quarter of them.
Most of the children work as bonded servants and most of the working women at these workshops are harassed one way or the other, observed Madadgar. Madadgar, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works for the rights of women and children, held a seminar to highlight the data it has gathered on the issues of women and children in the country.
Officials from the government, other NGOs, police and the civil society attended the seminar on Monday. In the nine years between 2001 and 2009, the Madadgar helpline received 103,990 calls for help, out of which 7,000 were made by women, 485 by boys and 6,200 by girls. “This is only the tip of the ice-berg as most of the time the victims don’t raise their voice,” said Zia Awan, a human rights activist who works with Madadgar.
Issues of children
According to non-government reports, there are more than 12 million child labourers in Pakistan and our “poor education system and the high birth rate are the main reasons. These children compete with adults in whatever little work that is available. As many as 1,459 cases of child trafficking were reported by mainstream print media in Pakistan between 2001 and 2009, while 19 boys and girls have been trafficked within the first quarter of 2010.
An estimated 1.2 million children are on the streets in the big cities of Pakistan. Among a total of 52,962 reported cases of child abuse in Pakistan, Punjab was at the top with almost 60 per cent, followed by Sindh with 34 per cent, then Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa with five per cent and Balochistan with nearly one per cent. Mostly, children who are domestic servants are subjected to abuse.
Issues of women
“In a society where social, cultural and religious factors already limit women entering the job market, sexual harassment at workplace and gender bias further discourage women from participating equally in economic activities,” said Nazish Ibrahim, the project coordinator of the Working Women Support Centre. “Working women are overworked in their houses, are underpaid at work and have no job security,” she pointed out. Pakistan is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 100 on equal remuneration and ILO Convention 111 on ending discrimination in employment and occupation.
Referring to the role of the Labour Ministry in Sindh, the provincial minister for labour Amir Nawab said that several initiatives and projects are in the pipeline for labourers in Sindh. “In the new labour policy, the informal sector including the construction industry and the agricultural industry will be covered,” he said, adding that this is the first time this will happen.
The government has also decided to pay minimum wages through banks so that the process is transparent, Nawab said. “This will not only take care of the minimum wage but also document the labour population,” he added. Nawab said that it will be difficult for the government to identify or do anything for harassment at workplaces unless they form unions. The ministry also established a separate tribunal for labour cases that will solve cases within six weeks to six months duration, Nawab said.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.