In preindustrial economies, child labour was an intrinsic part of the society primarily because the welfare and the productivity of the community was dependent on it. At the time the modern concept of ‘childhood’ also did not exist and after a certain age, as young as 13, earning a livelihood and ensuring the well-being of their families was a responsibility that fell onto the children. This ancient construct has managed to make its way into modern civilization predominantly existing in developing countries riddled with poverty. There is not much difference between the present and the past because in both cases child labour existed as a means to sustain a group’s welfare and survival. Historically though, it was considered a way of life while now it is a human rights violation and rightfully so.
‘Child labour’ in the modern sense of the term, refers to the exploitation of children through part-taking in any such work that deprives them of their childhood, makes them unable to receive education and proves to be detrimental to their moral, physical and mental well-being. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour. According to the BDNA (2019) report estimates, 24% of Pakistan’s population lives below the national poverty line. Thus it is a fair deduction that due to the cause and effect relationship between poverty and child labour, this issue of exploitation of children is a prevalent one is Pakistan. Poverty supplemented by a high inflation rate necessitates that young children work so the family can afford essential utilities. In this process, they are stripped not only of the bliss of childhood but deprived of proper schooling which will not allow them to escape this torment and condemn their future generations to a similar fate. Thus stuck in a vicious cycle of chronic poverty. According to a statement issued by the Child Rights Movement (CRM) National Secretariat, over 12.5 million children in Pakistan are involved in child labour. That is 12.5 million children are maltreated, tormented, and forced by a systematically oppressing structure to work in inhumane conditions for extremely low wages.
In Pakistan, it is illegal to employ a child younger than 16 years of age while almost 70% of bonded labourers in Pakistan are children who in most cases inherit their parent’s debts and are forced to labour long hours and are denied an education. Child labour makes up one-third of the people working in brick kilns in Pakistan and as a consequence, it is reported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that there is a high mortality rate among children working at brick kilns.
The ILO and the government of Pakistan recognize this issue as a pressing one, wreaking havoc on the unprivileged young population of Pakistan. Multiple laws containing provisions to prohibit child labour, or regulate the working conditions of the child and adolescent workers exist, such as The Factories Act 1934, The Employment of Children Act 1991, The Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 and The Punjab Compulsory Education Act 1994. Regardless of these measures, this issue is so pervasive that an end to this deep-seated, unethical infestation in our society seems improbable. This may be linked to the fact that most of the measures taken have been focused around child labour in brick kilns while this plight prevails in other sectors also. For example, a shocking 2.7 million children are claimed to be working in the agricultural sector.
As Pakistanis, it is our civic responsibility that we solve this issue instead of becoming a part of the problem. An ILO report of 2004 states that 264,000 children in Pakistan were employed as domestic help and the situation today is not better. This is proof that those with privilege will not help those afflicted, rather capitalize on the opportunity to exploit the less fortunate. We as a nation must condemn this because this statistic originates from our homes making this issue an internalized one. This is a matter of a distorted mindset. A child who should be waking up at 7 AM to go to school is waking up to polish your shoes. Banning child labour is not the solution to eradicating this menace. This is a seed sown too deep and to ensure its absolute elimination we must pull the root out.
Child labour is a consequence of poverty and systematic oppression. On one end we have people who do not know where their next meal will come from or have debts to pay so the children become the suffers and are forced into working. On the other end, we have the capitalist mindset that has little place for morals and is more concerned with losing cheap labour which compliments their profits. Also, a notable flaw in the system that allows child labour to persist and elevate in Pakistan is the lack of implementation of the existing provisions there to resolve this crisis. This is the reality of child labour in Pakistan.
http://www.ilo.org/ipec/ChildlabourstatisticsSIMPOC/lang–en/index.htm “What is child labour” www.ilo.org
https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/balochistan-drought-needs-assessment-bdna-report-february-2019 “Balochistan Drought Needs Assessment (BDNA) Report (February 2019)” Relief Web, 24 Apr 2019.
https://www.dawn.com/news/1264451 “12.5 million children in Pakistan are involved in child labour” Dawn News, June 13, 2016.
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/spiraling-debt-trapping-pakistan-brick-kiln-workers-190903135224452.html#:~:text=The%20Human%20Rights%20Commission%20of,even%20for%20a%20short%20period. Ghani Faraz, “The spiralling debt trapping Pakistan brick kiln workers” Al Jazeera, 21 Oct 2019.
https://dunyanews.tv/en/Pakistan/400066-Child-labour-beyond-brick-kilns “Child labour beyond brick kilns” Dunya News, 05 August 2017.