ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: In order to highlight the scourge of child labor, the Ministry of Human Rights has initiated a nationwide campaign on International Child Labor Day being observed on June 12.
“It is a proven fact that child labourers become adults who in turn subject their children to child labour and a vicious cycle of exploitation occurs in society”, the Secretary Ministry of Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha said in a statement.
According to UN’s statistics, globally one out of three girls and one out of five boys are likely to be exploited before they reach age 18. Pakistan’s high population growth of around 1.6% poses multiple challenges which constrain resources and economic development. In a country where almost half of the population lives below the poverty line, and where literacy stands at a mere 58%, child labor is a deeply entrenched issue prevalent in almost all informal sectors of Pakistan’s economy.
“Pakistan was one of the six initiators of the World Summit for Children in 1990 and took the lead in signing and ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Pakistan also ratified ILO Convention 182 on the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour, and signed the optional protocols to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography. The protection of the rights of children is further guided by Islamic injunctions and enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan”, the Federal Minister of Human Rights Dr Shireeen Mazari said.
Article 3 of the Constitution of Pakistan declares that “the state shall ensure the eradication of all forms of exploitation”. And yet working children are the objects of the most extreme form of exploitation in terms of working conditions, health hazards and potential abuse. Employers capitalize on the docility of children who are often deprived of their childhood and relegated to a life of drudgery.
Article 37(e) of the Constitution further qualifies that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that women and children are not employed in vocations unsuited to their age or sex…”
The Ministry of Human Rights has been proactive in its cognisance of the serious issue of child abuse, juvenile justice and child labor. To this end MoHR has been able to enact substantial laws such as the ICT Child Protection Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act which criminalizes child exposure to pornography, cruelty and trafficking. In accordance with Employment of Children Act, whosoever employs any child or permits any child to work shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to up to PKR 50, 000 or with both. However, lack of enforcement of labor laws and restrictions continues and perpetuates child labor in the informal sector where the immediate priority of subsistence takes precedence over anything else.
The Ministry of Human Rights recently enacted a new Juvenile Justice System Act, which focuses on disposal of cases through diversion and social-reintegration of juvenile offenders. They are also in the process of setting up a National Commission on Rights of the child and have recently drafted bills on corporal punishment, domestic workers and a policy on child abuse. Furthermore, with the support of UNICEF, they currently are working on developing an inter-ministerial protocol on missing children and a National Child Labor Survey.
This survey is the first in 23 years and is the first time that Pakistan and UNICEF are using the SIMPOC ‘Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labor through a fully digital platform. Through this household-based child labour survey Pakistan will have comprehensive data on the economic exploitation of children – a key human rights issue. It will also support Pakistan in realising SDG 8.7 which calls for eradicating child labor in all its forms by 2015.
The incidence of child employment impacts local labour markets. When there are more workers willing to work at a given wage than there are jobs, workers compete and drive down wages. Hence, the more child workers in the economy, the lower the wages of jobs those children compete for. This abundance of unskilled labour discourages the adoption of skill intensive technologies and the accumulation of human capital, leaving nations worse off in the long run. It is time that Pakistani society wake up to the dreadful issue of child labor prevalent in our country and ensure universal education and protection of its young citizens.