That child labour is a menace to society, depriving children of their basic rights, is an often lamented fact. Our lawmakers have so far failed to contain this menace leading to constant stories emerging of children being abused by employers. In this regard, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government’s step to present the Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill in the provincial assembly is a welcome measure indeed. The bill aims to bar the employment of children in certain occupations, while those aged above 12 will be allowed to work for a maximum of two hours daily for the purpose of acquiring skills at government-approved establishments. Anyone found breaking this law will be punished through prison sentences and fines.
In a similar vein, the Punjab government’s Child Welfare and Protection Bureau (CWPB) has also revealed its plans for introducing legislation to protect children working in the domestic labour sector. While the CWPB currently deals with cases of child abuse within households through the Pakistan Penal Code, a more direct law dealing with the problem is required. In fact, such a law is needed to protect children across the country. Domestic labour is by its nature hidden because it occurs behind the closed doors of private homes. Reports of violence committed against children at work emerge frequently and it is likely that many cases go unreported. Given this, it is imperative that other provinces follow K-P and Punjab in introducing legislation to protect child labourers and especially those working in domestic labour. Specific laws in this regard would allow authorities to work more effectively in rescuing children who are at the mercy of abusive employers and punish those who inflict violence on young workers. It is important to try and work towards a means to end child labour in all sectors so that children everywhere in the country are able to enjoy basic rights. Pakistan has signed international conventions for this purpose. It is now time to implement these in letter and in spirit.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2015.