13 June, 2011

End to Child Labour – still a dream

Sana Jamal

Islamabad - On World Day against Child Labour, few chotus (child labours) in Pakistan are aware of the importance of this day as they strive to earn their own and family’s bread. It is a fact that several million Pakistani children work for extremely long hours in exchange for little pay at the risk of maltreatment. Instead of being in school, these children are left at mercy of a cruel world where they continue to struggle hard as child labours.

Despite government recognition of laws against child labour and empty-pledges made by politicians to end child labour in the country, these children - our future - is being crushed by the unkind society.

One such child labour, Siddique Nawaz, 11, working for the last 4 years is not alone in his profession but has little or no hope for the fulfilment of his dreams to become a police officer. When asked about his dream Siddique told this scribe: “If I am able to continue my education I will join the police force and will severely punish the drug addicts.” No wonder why Siddique is so dismayed by the people who use and trade in drugs. To the fate of irony, Siddique’s father, himself a drug addict, is one of the causes for Siddique becoming a child labour.

Narrating his sorrowful story, Siddique continues that it was her mother’s dream that he could get a good education but the fact remains that if her children would not work she cannot live an honourable life without begging or compromising with the society.
Siddique’s painful practical life began when he was only 7 years old and was deployed with his cousin to wash parked cars at Sunday Bazaar in Aabpara. After 2 years of experience he was able to earn Rs. 200 plus per week when misfortune hit him and underground mafia (that controlled the area) began demanding 50 per cent of his earnings which forced him to leave the place and find a job elsewhere. One bright Sunday, Siddique met one of his old car customers who offered him a job at his clothes shop and since then he considers himself a lucky one to get a job of Rs. 4000 per month.

Like Siddique there are several thousand children living miserable lives by working 10-14 hours a day and earning as little as Rs. 10 per day in the glamorous cities such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.
Most children work in auto-mechanical shops while several others work as car washer and cleaner. Others can be seen mending flat tyres, selling flowers at traffic signals, or selling fruit and vegetables in markets or working as house-maids.
Child rights activists have long urged the government to compile new statistical data on child labourers as there has not been a National Child Labour Survey since 1996 which had found that 3.3 million of the 40 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 in Pakistan were “economically active on a full-time basis”. Coalition against Child Labour Pakistan (CACLP) report claims that there were 21 million children employed as labourers across the country.

ILO 2011 report has warned that an appallingly high number of children are still caught in hazardous work - some 115 million of the world’s 215 million child labourers.
A recent report on ‘State of Pakistan’s Children 2010’ released by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) revealed that “the trend of child labour is decreasing globally but unfortunately in Pakistan there has been an increase in child labour.”

Children working as labour are denied education, which is now a recognized right for every child between the ages of six and 14. The plight of our child-labour demands urgent action by both the government and society to end the exploitation of young children and secure the future of our next generation.