The Sindh Child Protection Authority may have been established in 2011, but provincial government bodies are still employing minors as janitors and garbage pickers to sweep the streets and lift solid waste in the city.
This is claimed by social activists, who have written to the Sindh chief minister, provincial minister for human rights, local government minister, the National Commission on Status of Children chairperson and the Sindh Child Protection Authority. The letter, penned by Helpline Trust, pointed out that minors are being cruelly exploited by local contractors working under the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB).
It adds that the workers are paid far below minimum wage. The document aimed to draw the attention of these officials to the issue in the hope that they would intervene and end the exploitation of minor janitors.
“As responsible citizens of Pakistan, we would like to bring your kind notice that the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB), responsible to clean Karachi from soild waste, is engaged in child abuse and child labour by employing janitors that include 12 to 15-year-old boys and girls,” the letter read.
Helpline Trust Trustee Farooq Dawood Herekar said SSWMB had sublet the cleaning and sweeping of roads in Karachi to a Chinese company called KANGJIE. However, the latter sublet the task to Pakistani contractors, who have employed hundreds of janitors to clean the city roads.
“These janitors are paid an illegal and exploitative salary of Rs12,000 per month which is far below the current minimum wage of Rs17,500, as set by the government,” the letter stated. It continued that janitors are neither registered with the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution nor any other form of social security.
“This again is a cruel and illegal practice,” Herekar said. “Could these crimes take place without the full knowledge and connivance of organisations such as the Sindh Child Protection Authority, Sindh Minimum Wage Board and the Sindh labour department?”
The organisations urged that children below 18 years of age be immediately provided support from the Sindh Child Protection Authority.
Meanwhile, the National Commssion on Child Rights, established by the federal government, has sought reports from Sindh government departments.
Read more: Sindh to update its child labour figures
Iqbal Ahmed Detho, a member of the commission in Sindh, told The Express Tribune that his chairperson has repeatedly written to the provincial government. He asked for the strengthening and implementation of laws prohibiting child labour and to ensure that any person exploiting adolescents be prosecuted and punished.
“In this case, we also approached the labour department to inform the commission about complaints of child abuse and hiring of minor janitors,” he said.
The commission member said his entity had also communicated with Sindh authorities to set up district level vigilance committees to advise the administration on effective implementation of the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 2015. It also sought the rehabilitation of freed bonded labour.
“I personally visited the labour department secretary’s office to inquire over the matter and consequent action, but all in vain,” Detho said. He continued that the commission sought a report from the Sindh Minimum Wage Board about the meager salaries of workers.
Despite several attempts, neither Sindh Labour Minister Saeed Ghani nor his secretary could not be reached for comment.But Sindh Minimum Wage Board chairperson Zahid Hussain Khemtio said that they had written to the SSWMB. The board asked for contract agreement copies as well as the age and details of janitorial staff and other allied persons.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, SSWMB Operations Executive Director Tariq Nizamani said action had already been taken against contractors who hired minor staff. “We have outsourced the entire system to lift and dispose solid. We keep vigil on the entire system through our command and control operation which is digitised,” he said.
He claimed authorities monitor the entire operations and activities of workers. “We have around 5,000 workers and employees in five districts of Karachi. I don’t think any minor janitor is still working with a contractor,” he asserted. The executive director assured further investigation and, if necessary, action.
The responsibility to protect children and avoid child abuses/exploitation also lies with the Sindh Child Protection Authority. Its chairperson Shamim Mumtaz said she recently took charge and would check if there were any complaints on the matter. “Give me a day or two; we will look into it,” she said.
Mumtaz stressed no one would be allowed to exploit and abuse children in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2021.