Epidemic of child labour in Pakistan a sensitive matter; Afshan Tehseen Bajwa

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 Islamabad,  (Parliament Times) : On the World Day Against Child Labour, the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) is renewing its commitment and mandate to ensure that children across Pakistan are protected from harm and their rights are secured – this also includes reducing cases of the worst forms of child labour. Although no nationwide child labour survey has been conducted since 1996, according to the Pakistan Labour Survey 2020-2021, an estimated 17% of the total working age population is accounted by 10-14-year-old children, making up 26.32 million out of 159.83 million working age population.

Whether employed as a farmhand, a brick kiln worker, or as a domestic help, children who are engaged in child labour often experience extreme emotional, physical abuse and harms to their bodies and their minds. In nearly every case of child labour, children are set up for extreme hardship for the rest of their lives as they are stripped of their right to learn, play and experience a happy childhood. Child labour is a grave violation of children’s rights.

Chairperson National Commission on the Rights of Child, Afshan Tehseen Bajwa, expressed her deep concern about the epidemic of child labour in Pakistan, “The NCRC believes that child labour is a violation of every child’s right to a safe childhood and their inalienable rights. Child labour exposes young and vulnerable children directly and indirectly to many harmful effects on their health, cognitive development and wellbeing. In the long run, it can cause them to fall prey to mental health issues, and fall into the trap of generational poverty, violence, and homelessness. There is a need for change – in policy, practice, and mindsets.

The Commission believes that enforcement of education laws is essential, and demands amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan Article 11 (3) and Provincial Labour Laws to raise the minimum age to 16 years in line with international standards and Article 25(A). While Pakistan has made uneven progress, there is a need for mass awareness campaign for parents, caretakers, and the society at large to monitor and discourage child labour — especially at homes, hotels, and service industries. Only strong prevention strategies can help change the mindsets.

However, legislation alone is not enough to address the systemic and deep-rooted issue of child labour in Pakistan. Along with legal reforms, the NCRC recommends initiatives that increases sensitization towards child labour issues punishment through public education, awareness-raising and social mobilization on the harmful effects of child labour to bring about a behavioral change, promote positive parenting, and discourage children’s exploitation.”

The consequences of child labour

The detrimental effects of child labour are staggering and well-documented – children’s employment across formal and informal sectors is the worst form of exploitation. It often involves coercion and involuntariness in the context of child labour – consequently, children suffer the physical impact of child labour, trauma of abuse and coercion, and overall lack of freedom – particularly in domestic settings where there is no legislation.

According to estimates, Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of child labour. This contributes to the knock-on effect of the country holding the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million aged 5-16 not attending school – making up 44 % of the age group’s population.

Child labour is inherently rooted in poverty, forcing children to contribute towards household expenses or pay off familial debt. This leaves children exposed to hazardous working conditions involving long hours, brutal working conditions, and exposure to health risks. Child labour also often has spillover effects, contributing to children’s involvement in commercial sexual exploitation, forced domestic work, human trafficking, and bonded slavery. Overall, child labour and their employment comes with a heavy price for the children, their futures, and the society at large.

Eliminating and Preventing Child Labour – NCRC’s recommendations

The National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) is strongly advocating for collective national action to propel this issue in the limelight so that the most vulnerable of children across Pakistan are protected from the exploitation of child labour – by law and in practice.

NCRC recommends aligning child rights and protection laws to explicitly prohibit all child labour – across agriculture, cottage industries, informal industries, formal industries, domestic labour, and brick kilns. In addition, all the provinces must set the minimum age of employment in line with the international conventions ratified by Pakistan – Minimum Age Convention, 1973; Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999; and Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957. In the same vein, federal and provincial governments should ensure coherency between laws concerning minimum age for work and the age range for compulsory education. Given the traditional and social acceptance of child labour, it is essential to have a strong monitoring and enforcement mechanism for child labour laws. The State should also complete the child labour survey – which has not been conducted since 1996 – for a comprehensive, evidence-based policy reforms.

In tandem, the Commission recommends planning for effective enforcement through comprehensive integration of child labour prevention strategies with visible, cross-sectoral coordination with the National Human Rights Institutes (NHRIs), the Government, legal and enforcement agencies, judicial bodies and industries. Effective enforcement should include strengthening monitoring systems – such as adequate training and resource provision of provinicial labour inspectorates, effective district vigilance committees enforcing child labour laws, dedicated hotlines for child rights violations – to ensure improved protection of children and curb the abuse of power by brick kiln owners, feudal lords and industry owners.

The Commission recommends that the State should take proactive measures to strengthen social safety nets and inclusive social protection programmes, and integrate them with complementary health and education policies. The State should also enforce comprehensive bans on child labour, set minimum age standard nationwide, laws and push for addressing inconsistencies between compulsory school laws and labour laws. NCRC also calls for the following measures: economic empowerment to reduce family poverty risks and vulnerability, supporting livelihoods and school enrolment, and promote cooperation between between agriculture and labour stakeholders on child labour prevention.

ABOUT:

National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) was established by the Government of Pakistan under National Commission on the Rights of the Child Act- 2017. The mandate of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child in section 15 is to examine, review laws, policies, inquire into violation of child rights, examine international instruments and undertake periodical review of existing policies and programmes on child rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation in the best interest of children; advise the Federal Government to sign, ratify or accede to any proposed International Treaties, Protocols, etc.

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