On the eve of World Day against Child Labor, the United Nations had declared this year that there are 218 million children, aged between 5 and 17, engaged in different sectors around the world, millions of them working in hazardous conditions. In Pakistan most of the boys are employed in urban areas whereas most of the girls are employed in rural areas. In Sindh, Dadu district is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan. The district comprises of four talukas namely Dadu, Mehar, K. N. Shah and Johi. Geographically, the area is divided into three parts -mountainous, arid and plain fields. Taluka Johi lying in the western part of the district, called Kachho (an arid area without irrigation system) has approximately 294,800 inhabitants. As per poverty score card survey conducted by Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP) under European Union-funded Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support Program in 2016, some 73% of households are living below poverty line in Taluka Johi, and major source of their income comes from livestock and a wild plant locally called peesh. It has been observed that most of the girls have been involved in child labor in rural and urban areas at the age of 8-16. It has also been frequently reported that in urban areas of country girls are working in the houses of a few riches for very low wages.
On the other hand, in rural parts, girls are deprived of their basis rights, like education, health and freedom of choice. Generally, poverty is thought to be one of the most eminent underlying causes of child labour. We documented interviews of leaders of women-led organizations formed by TRDP in Dadu. In response to a question Ms. Zeenat from village Drigh Bala said, “Our human resource was unutilized. I was in quest of an opportunity to get them utilized but no one was ready to invest a tiny amount to minimize our sufferings. It was a cold morning, when I was invited to participate in 3-day community management skills training where we had been sensitized and mobilized by TRDP’s team to find ways to mobilize existing resources to get rid from curse of poverty and that event made me realize to be a leader. Before this, our children were engaged in child labor they were supporting their families in livelihood.” To another question she said that their women-led community institute is managing budget in millions and continuously providing interest-free small loans to their members as revolving loan to enhance their livelihood sources. “They have set their own criteria and only those can get loan whose household is free from child labor and child abuse.” Another woman Ms. Shehnaz, happened to be a widow in an unfortunate incident, has seven kids. Her 12-year old son left his education at the age of 10 and started working to support his family after death of his father. After two years Ms. Shehnaz received an income-generating grant from women-led institution and started a small business that helped her son to again continue his education by saying goodbye to child labor. Gulsher Panhwer, a senior teacher having almost 20 years of teaching experience in in government schools, said, “Major cause of the child labor in our society is cultural and traditional parents’ thinking which directly leads to child labor and it is like a vicious cycle.” Sharing experience of his school, he told, “I witnessed a 12-year brilliant student of my class getting married obeying his parents, irrespective of his own will. He left school for good and started laboring as then he had to support his family.” “Structural reforms are only source to reduce child labor from our society; poverty is not major reason behind child labor particularly in Sindh,” he asserted suggesting that religious leaders and parents must be sensitized to eliminate intensity of issue and in case of parents’ death children must be provided stipend when they come to school. “A few amendments in the law are also need of the hour.” In an interview, Mehboob Ali, human rights defender from Johi said that in a broader concept, child labor is directly linked with accountability and good governance however at micro level there are a few major reasons behind child labor in our society, in which poverty comes on top. Secondly, it can be negative and irresponsible behavior of the society including parents and teachers. To a question he said that if government wants all issues can easily be resolved and it is prime responsibility of state to alleviate poverty through proper planning, and state owned intuitions must own their responsibility and provide basic facilities from registering children at the time of birth, and shouldering all expenses associated with health, education, employment to old-age benefits but here situation is completely adverse. “Over population causes poverty and lack of employment opportunities outnumbering the resources available. We don’t have standardized fixed size of family to control over-population; if someone has 10 children how will he feed them all if he earns occasionally?” He added that at work place children suffer physical and socio-psycho violence, sexual harassment, lack of respect, which directly causes stress, domestic violence, robbery and street crimes.
“Organizations working on human rights in Pakistan have to play their role to ensure implementation of all policies and laws, otherwise, the laws and policies can be deemed as useless and hollow.”
Farooque Ali Babar, Field Officer, Hand in Hand with Educated and Labor People (HHELP), a youth-led non-profit organization working in District Dadu on education, said, “We are facing myriad issues amid increasing poverty in the region which results in high dropout ratio in schools and child marriages. Child labor is because of poor infrastructural facilities by government. Facilities like toilet, boundary wall, and adequate furniture are unavailable in many functional schools that’s why every school has a high absenteeism ratio; even we have no any single model school established by the government in rural areas which attracts the children to come inside the school. Government must invest on proper schooling and at end of day it will close doors of many jails.”
Ms. Humaira Noor, Networking Liaison and Human Resource Development Specialist from TRDP said, “Before intervention of her organization in Johi, most of girls were engaged in child labour at their home, and it was in practice for years that only women and girls were earning by producing Waan (rope) from locally wild plant peesh which is being widely used for weaving of cots across Sindh and Baluchistan and most of the men were used to sit idle in hotels.”
She added “We have trained men and women from each union council of district Dadu by providing them different technical and vocational trainings; definitely these trainings will unburden the children. We are empowering women by enhancing their capacities by providing them different income-generating grants and training. We believe that raised income of their household will bring positive change in their standard of living but government has to provide basic facilities to eradicate child labor completely, while Women of Sindh are striving to end child labour and for achieving this goal, women-led organizations formed under SUCCESS program are being trained to get rid of poverty and child labour she maintained.
-The writer is human and animal rights defender.