By Nauman Jamil
Pakistan is one of the largest child labour markets in the world according to a recent survey. Our own child labour survey conducted in 1996 by the Government of PM Nawaz Sharif estimated that 73 percent of 3.3 million children are actively working of which 27 percent are girls. According to the findings of the children’s survey this figure is around 7 percent of the total workforce. Child labour number in Punjab province is approximately 1.2 million, which represents close to 60 percent of the province’s child population.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was the second highest in the list with about a million uneducated children in employment. Sindh, with 298,000 child workers was third while the figure of just 14,000 in Balochistan is probably due to the very low number of reporting households.
The majority of Pakistani child labour is in the agricultural sector, in activities such as shepherding, collection of firewood, water, food and in the potentially dangerous area of fertilizer spraying. It is not surprising, the findings of the 1996 survey showed that eight times more children are employed in rural areas compared to urban areas.
Child labour in urban industries include basic manufacturing as well as the usual unskilled occupations of portering (unloading goods), menial hotel services, car workshops, restaurants, collecting rags, shoe shines and so on. A hidden area of child labour is in the domestic setting where poorer Pakistani families can have one in four children working long hours in the home, most of whom, approximately 62 percent, are young girls.
There are marked differences between provinces in the use of underage female domestic workers. The numbers for the cities of Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore and Karachi is lower than the provinces KP and Baluchistan which are relatively conservative regions and are culturally not conducive to the mobility and the employment of women.
One of the most important and distressing topics these days are street children. Typically if they are lucky they could be employed as shoe-shine kids or flower sellers, who live and work on the dangerous streets where they are at the mercy of their ruthless employers. It is a different and less secure employment to factory labour. However, ‘home workers’ or children employed in micro industries are a particular challenge, and despite their contribution to the economy, this large sector of an estimated 1.2 million children from major cities and urban centres are unjustifiably the most ostracized social group.
Drugs and crime have become endemic according to a survey conducted by the United Nations Office. The Government as well as non-governmental and voluntary organizations help by providing staff to gather data and are working towards eradicating child abuse at work. As part of the community, we should discourage child labour and try to minimize this social injustice wherever possible. Children should be able to live their youth, away from the abusive profiteers of their slavery.
(The Writer is a student of M.Com (Finance) at UMT Sailkot Campus)