LAHORE: The Punjab government along with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) approved a pilot project to combat child labour earlier this month, but labour activists remain skeptical of its ability to bring meaningful change.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Iftikhar Mubarak, Program Manager at the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, said it was vital to ensure that these projects were made sustainable in the long run.
“These projects give outputs, but do these outputs bring about a change in the larger picture?,” he questioned.
He added that measures like imparting skills to adults must be practiced to encourage them to undertake economic responsibility of their family instead of burdening their children with it.
The five year Rs180 million pilot project would employ technical assistance from the ILO.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Humayun Mazhar Director Labour Welfare Punjab said the 'first of its kind' initiative by the Punjab government would be funded by the government.
“This is the first time such a project is being carried out by a provincial government on this scale,” he said.
According to the last authentic survey regarding child labour, conducted 15 years ago by the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) in collaboration with the ILO, titled National Child Labour Survey (NLS), Punjab was found to have the highest number of children (1.94 million) engaged in child labour.
The project will be carried out in four districts of Punjab, including Jhelum, Chakwal, Layyah and Jhang and would be funded under the Annual Development Program. It will initially assess areas where worst forms of child labour (WFCL) are practiced.
Comprised of four major components, the project will focus on literacy services, skill development, model workshops and micro-crediting schemes. In light of the preliminary survey, the project aims to establish literacy centres in target areas to facilitate enrollment of children most prone to WFCL.
The project will enroll as many as 2000 working children under the age of 14 in non-formal literacy centres. Whereas 2000 from the higher age group would be imparted literacy and skill training.
Mazhar added that the children’s families enrolled will be linked with micro-credit schemes.
“The ground reality is that while children are taken out from hazardous employments to be educated, arrangements have to be made to supplement the income they used to generate for their family,” he said,”And here is where we will implement micro-crediting schemes,” Mazhar added.
The project will also include 50 model workshops which will educate and demonstrate ‘healthy employment’ ensuring safe working conditions.
Saeed Awan, Director of Centre for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment, said previously several projects had been carried out by the ILO but it was the first time the issue had been taken up as a development project by the government.
Awan, who has researched extensively on child labour for over 20 years, said the project had been divided in two clusters focusing on areas in north and south Punjab.
“The reason we chose these four districts is to ensure visibility of results in smaller districts during the pilot project,” he said.
He added that larger districts required larger resources which will be designed based on the outcome of this project.
“It took a while for us to get here but it is encouraging that the realization is fast sinking in,” said Awan.
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