Opinions may differ on various aspects of child labour, but the entire humanity agrees that it is an undesirable thing and should be eliminated. Of the 215 million child labourers worldwide, 12.5 million are in Pakistan, and it is among countries where this scourge is more prevalent, though globally the number of child labourers has declined from 200 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2014. The International Labour Organisation fears that the coronavirus pandemic could push more children into the labour market because of rising poverty in consequence of increasing unemployment. This is because of the fact that child labour goes hand in hand with poverty. Pakistan too is witnessing a rise in the population of child labourers in the wake of the pandemic. Boys comprise 61% of the child labour force in the country and 88% of them are from rural areas.
Like adults, children too are forced to migrate to cities and towns in search of employment. They come with dreams that living in cities would someday bring prosperity to their otherwise drab lives. But their dreams are soon shattered after coming in contact with harsh realities of the daily struggle for survival. In cities, they mostly work at auto repair workshops and tea shops, sell flowers, face masks, toys and trinkets. Coming from poor families as they do, they work to help their families fulfil their needs. This explains why the poor prefer to have many children. In order to feed many mouths, they also need a proportionate number of hands to work and add to the family income, though outsiders attribute this to grossness and ignorance. It is said that one half of the world does not know how the other half lives; and it is this that accounts for the mistaken belief of the well-to-do classes.
In Pakistan, there are laws that prohibit employing children under 14 years. It is easy to make laws, but their implementation is probably difficult.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2021.