Child labour concerns

Published: June 13, 2013
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Unless there is a major crackdown by the government, the courts and NGOs against child labour on those violating child rights, it will be an extremely tricky task to eliminate child labour in Pakistan. PHOTO: SHAHBAZ MALIK

Unless there is a major crackdown by the government, the courts and NGOs against child labour on those violating child rights, it will be an extremely tricky task to eliminate child labour in Pakistan. PHOTO: SHAHBAZ MALIK

June 12 marked World Day Against Child Labour. Pakistan is one of the several countries that urgently need to take notice of this day. Protection against child labour is difficult to attain due to weak enforcement of laws. In addition, there also seems to be an utter lack of concern by the authorities whose responsibility it is to ensure that child rights are protected. This lack of concern is highlighted by the mysterious murder of Iqbal Masih, as reported in 1995, after he became an international symbol of abusive child labour, breaking away from the carpet industry at the burgeoning age of just 10. At an age when children should be learning basic math in school, they are instead learning how to be clever in convincing customers to buy their products and learning how to negotiate prices.

It is not that Pakistan does not have laws against child labour. It is, again, a problem of implementation and enforcement. We have several laws in place such as the Factories Act of 1934, which prohibits any child younger than 14 to work in a factory. Even if a child does take up employment after meeting the age requirement, he or she first has to be deemed physically fit for work: “A certifying surgeon shall, on the application of any child or adolescent who wishes to work in a factory, examine such person and ascertain his fitness for such work.” Furthermore, the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act says no children shall work between 7pm and 8am, yet we frequently see children chasing after cars urging people sitting inside to purchase flower bracelets and garlands, at all hours of the day.

The abuse of these laws is committed by people in several industries but also by those who are aware of the child labour factor in society. Frequently, pubescent or prepubescent girls are hired by adults as nannies to watch after infants and toddlers. Unless there is a major crackdown by the government, the courts and NGOs against child labour on those violating child rights, it will be an extremely tricky task to eliminate child labour in Pakistan. This countrywide crackdown needs to occur in the retail, wholesale, manufacturing and service industries where child labour is prevalent. Maybe then we can claim that World Day Against Child Labour is being paid heed to in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2013.                                                                                        

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Mirza
    Jun 13, 2013 - 1:45AM

    I agree with this editorial in principle but have a few comments. Due to abject poverty some families have to choose between child labor and child starvation. Younger kids work in many countries of the world without any problem. The main difference the kids in the other countries work part-time and they must not give up their high school education. Of course the work should not be like slavery or beyond their physical capability. The laws are that kids can only work part time and summer holidays and continue with their schools. In other words underage work is highly regulated. There is no concept of enslaving the young children to work all day and late in the night. It is about time that we also regulate and implement child protection laws in Pakistan.

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  • Saleem
    Jun 13, 2013 - 6:27PM

    Resolving Child Labor in Pakistan, with all good intent and purposes is a gargantuan challenge. We may implement all the laws and policies to prohibit Child Labor but it will be like removing one evil to create another.

    As mention in the comments “families have to choose between child labor and child starvation”. In implementing the laws the following prerequisite should be implemented:
    1) availability of schools for children of the poor.
    2) motivation for the poor parents to ensure attendance of their children
    3) strict control over the employers of underage children
    4) part-time jobs in different industries to be regulated for students
    5) wages and salaries

    Implementation of Child Labor laws with the absence of the above will land the children in the street — which would create even worst environment for the children.

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