BAHAWALPUR/ FAISALABAD/ LAHORE:
Lawmakers and civil society activists on Thursday said that observing June 12 as World Day against Child labour was important but a lot more needed to be done to eliminate child labour and exploitation of children by honouring the human rights obligations that the state had committed to observe.
“Every year we observe this day but the needs and demands of the deprived children remain unanswered,” said Sajjad Ahmad Cheema, regional manager of Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).
Not a domestic issue
Cheema demanded an immediate ban on domestic child labour, which International Labour Organisation (ILO) calls modern-day slavery. “Legislative initiatives are needed to abolish child labour. All children aged 5 to 16 must have access to schools at the state’s expense in line with the promise made in Article 25-A of the Constitution, through implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance in the Punjab and we hope and expect that the provincial assembly would approve the ordinance,” he said.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, child rights activist Iftikhar Mubarik said, “The Punjab government must include child domestic labour in the schedule of banned occupations under Children’s Employment Act, 2011. The draft Punjab Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill, 2013, introduced by Labour and Human Resource Department, did not comprehensively address prohibition of child domestic labour, Mubarik added.
He said it was the provincial government’s responsibility to expand the purview of the right to free and compulsory education to child domestic labourers. The federal government was also obliged under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from dangerous work, the activist added.
Mubarik said, “It is the responsibility of the provincial government to come up with a child protection policy without further delay to ensure the protection of children from all manners of abuse and exploitation.”
He urged the government to immediately ratify ILO Convention 189, concerning decent work for domestic workers.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MPA Dr Nausheen Hamid said there were 40 million children in Pakistan aged 5-14 and a Federal Bureau of Statistics survey found that 3.8 million children in the age group were forced to work. Fifty per cent of these economically active children were in the 5-9 year age group, she said.
“Child labour is a complex problem which demands multifaceted solutions. There is no better way to prevent child labour than to make education compulsory,” the provincial lawmaker said. Child labour laws should be strictly implemented and the education system must be restructured according to national development goals, she said.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MPA Hina Pervaiz Butt told The Express Tribune, “It is quite unfortunate that women in the Pakistani household are mostly responsible for child labour.” She urged mothers to stand up against child labour and enroll their children in schools. “Child labour should come to an end and primary education should be made compulsory for every child if we want Pakistan to have a better future,” Butt said.
Pakistan had the fourth largest number of children working at an age when they should not be working, Abdul Rab Farooqi, director of Jaag Welfare Movement, told journalists in Rahim Yar Khan.
Children younger than 10 are working in workshops, barber shops and tea stalls and that must force us to think. Anyone who raises the child labour issue is asked how would they support their families if they do not work?”
Red card to child labour
The government must strengthen the system to inspect and curb child labour, especially domestic child labour, to stop exploitation of children and raise awareness about its harmful effects on children, the economy and the nation. These demands were made by participants of a demonstration under the Red Card to Child Labour Campaign outside Faisalabad Press Club on Thursday.
Peace and Human Development (PHD) Foundation, Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights, Idara Samaji Behbood, Pakistan Interfaith Peace Council and Human Rights, and Awareness and Development Organisation jointly organised the demonstration.
The demonstration was joined by children and youth. They chanted slogans and carried banners and red cards to oppose child labour and urged the government to take tangible steps to protect child rights.
PHD Foundation Director Suneel Malik said, “The red card is used as a symbol by ILO to raise awareness in preventing, challenging and eliminating child labour, and gives a voice to the working children.
“Child labour will not come to an end unless awareness is increased, poverty decreased, and the goal of compulsory universal primary education achieved. Child labour will end when the guardians and employers of working children are taken to court, and when adults engaging underage children for labour are seen as reprehensible,” Malik added.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2014.