Most parents want to provide their children with the best education to enable them to survive independently and prosper. However, not all can afford it.
Instead, many make their offspring forego education in favour of what is recognised internationally as child labour so the family can afford two square meals per day.
International treaty and the constitution
Pakistan has ratified several international conventions regarding minimum age and wages but has failed to implement them. It adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and went on to sign two optional protocols on the Sale of Children, Children Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC) as well as the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) in 2001. The OPSC was ratified in 2001, whereas the OPAC has yet to be adopted.
According to Article 11(2) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, “all forms of forced labour and trafficking of human beings are prohibited”. Sub-article 3 states no child below the age of 14 can be employed at a factory, mine or any other potentially hazardous place of work. However, the Constitution does not take into account children employed as domestic labour or help, and the Federal Bureau of Statistics estimated that 3.8 million children under age 14 are working in Pakistan.
Section 4 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 says that “on the commencement of this Act, the bonded labour system shall stand abolished and every bonded labourer shall stand freed and discharged from any obligation to render any bonded labour”.
Section 9 states the provincial government may assign a district magistrate to ensure that the act is properly implemented and the designated official can appoint a subordinate officer to assist him.
“Whoever after the commencement of this Act compels any person to render any bonded labour shall be punished with imprisonment for the term which shall not be less than two years nor more than five years,” the section states.
Also, Section 11 of the act states that a fine of Rs50,000 or both can be imposed on the offenders.
However, bonded labour continues to exist in the country and continues to include children, with the Global Slavery Index 2013 estimating that 2.1 million Pakistanis work as bonded labourers, the third highest in the world in both, absolute terms and as a share of total population.
A matter of age and industry
The Employment of Children Act 1991 defines a child as a person who has not completed his or her fourteenth year of age.
It says in Section 7(2) no child should have to work for more than three hours a day without taking at least an hour’s rest in between. “No child shall be permitted or required to work between 7pm and 8am,” state sub-sections 4 and 5.
Section 3 of the Act prohibits children under the age of 14 from any occupation related to the railways, or ports or fireworks. The act goes on to lay down prohibitions about working in various processes including, carpet-weaving, cement manufacture, cloth printing, dyeing and weaving, soap manufacture, wool-cleaning, building and construction industry, and manufacturing process using toxic metals and substances.
Anyone violating Section 3 can be imprisoned up to a year or pay Rs20,000 or both.
After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the matter of child rights was devolved to the provincial government.
Punjab adopted the Employment of Children (Amendment) Act 2011 and by that replaced the act of 1991.
Sindh has a Child Protection Authority Act 2011 and had developed a policy on home-based workers in 2012 but is yet to adopt comprehensive legislation on child labour.
Till end of 2013, Balochistan had no legislation on child labour; a draft of the Employment of Children (Amendment) Bill was submitted in 2012 but was not passed in vetting. The province has hundreds of child workers employed in hazardous sectors.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has not yet adopted the Employment of Children Act 1991.
Provinces, although, have other means of protecting protect children.
In K-P for instance, the K-P Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 delineates the Child Protection and Welfare Commission, a fund for said commission, the notification of child protection courts, the rescue and rehabilitation of a child at risk as well as the sentencing of children.
However, not a lot is said about the direct employment of minors in exchange for money or barter.
Human rights and non-governmental organisations have time and again asked the federal and provincial governments to fulfill their basic responsibilities of educating children and abolishing child labour, which still exists in all parts of the country. However, the credibility of some of these organisations needs to be questioned in the first place.
Saifullah Kakakhel, a Peshawar-based lawyer, tells The Express Tribune that the checks and balances to register NGOs are becoming increasingly lenient and a few thousand rupees exempts the organisations from the required clearance by law enforcement agencies.
He stated that the relevant government bodies have failed to abolish child labour and NGOs getting funds for the same purpose are spending the money on lavish hotel stays and ineffective meetings.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2014.