Children as cleaners

It is illegal to employ children below the age of 14. Second, they are not being paid even the minimum wage


May 25, 2021

In Karachi, thousands of boys and girls, aged between 12 and 15 years, are engaged in sweeping the streets and roads of the city at a monthly salary of Rs12, 000, which is much below the current minimum wage of Rs17,000. These hapless children are not directly working under the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board though, they have been put to work by contractors to whom the government organisation has sublet the work of cleaning the city. This is doubly cruel. First, under the relevant law, it is illegal to employ children below the age of 14. Second, they are not being paid even the minimum wage.

The whole story of children’s exploitation is marked by ironies, as this is happening when the Sindh Child Protection Authority exists since 2011, and when there is the Sindh Minimum Wage Board and the provincial labour department. These bodies are meant to prevent exploitation of children and to ensure the payment of minimum wage to workers. These organisations have an army of staffers, besides many officers getting fat salaries and perks, to see to it that violation of laws don’t take place. These highly-paid officials, however, deny the grim ground realities and maintain that all is well.

Social activists have drawn the attention of the Sindh CM, provincial ministers for human rights and labour, and the chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Children in the hope that they will help rectify the situation. The National Commission on Child Rights (NCCR), functioning under the federal government, has also asked the relevant provincial departments for reports on unlawfully employing children. It has sought implementation of laws forbidding children and prosecution and punishment for the violators of the laws. Despite the best efforts of a member of the NCCR in Sindh, things have remained unmoved.

An officer of the SSWMB claims that ‘action has already been taken against contractors who hired minor staff.’ The existing reality gives a lie to the claim.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2021.

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