Punjab’s war on child labour
A society’s moral health is gauged by the kind of treatment it metes out to its women, the elderly and children. Children form the most vulnerable group, most likely to be exposed to exploitation and abuse.
Children are the architects of the future and thus their physical, emotional, and psychological welfare should be on the top of the public policy agenda. This responsibility is sanctioned by religious injunctions and the constitution of Pakistan. It is unfortunate that successive governments have remained negligent on this count and the child rights agenda could not get the policy focus it deserved. The fact that Pakistan is ranked among the countries with the highest ratio of children being out of school is a slap in our face as well as a reason to accelerate the pace of policy reforms.
In Punjab, we have embarked on the mission of eradicating child labour from the province. It is my personal resolve that I will not rest till the last child engaged in child labour goes to school. No one can be allowed to mortgage the future of the nation. Provision of education to children is a national objective and a sacred responsibility, for which my government has allocated millions of dollars.
Allow me to say in no uncertain terms that there is a strong and unwavering leadership commitment to the eradication of child labour and the mainstreaming of the child rights agenda. In line with the UN Conventions on child rights, Pakistan’s constitution and as part of our GSP+ commitments, my government has launched a comprehensive roadmap encompassing legislative, political and legal reforms. This roadmap constitutes an institutional response to the scourge of child labour.
The cabinet has, in principle, approved the Punjab Restriction of Employment of Children Bill 2015. After enactment, it will prohibit the employment of children under fifteen years of age. The law is in compliance with the ILO convention on the worst form of labour.
Brick-kilns represent a chronic sector employing children. The Punjab government carried out a survey last year to determine the number of out-of-school children. The survey identified about 23,642 at more than 6,000 kilns.
The government adopted a two-pronged strategy characterised by a combination of special incentives and enforcement of laws to check the child labour.
The soft campaign for enrolment of children in schools resulted in 90 percent admissions followed by the promulgation of the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016. The key feature of the ordinance is that the kiln owner has been made responsible for any occurrence of child labour in the entire brick kiln making value chain.
As of January 31, 2016, 3474 inspections were carried out across Punjab. During these inspections, 600 cases were registered against kiln owners employing children; 678 owners and managers were arrested and more than 200 brick kilns were sealed for violation of the law.
The enforcement of anti-child labour law is being augmented by a special support package for children working at the brick kilns. The package includes provision of free uniform, books, bags, shoes, a monthly stipend of Rs1000 per student, an allowance of Rs2000 per family on enrolment of their children in schools and an annual allowance of Rs2000 per family on the retention of children in schools.
The Punjab government has also started android-based inspections in all the established industrial estates. During the last three months, 1261 inspections were conducted in which 27 cases of child labour were identified. This was followed by initiation of legal proceedings against the violators.
I understand that complex socio-economic issues and poverty are at the heart of the phenomenon of child labour. The experience of developing countries suggests that apart from regulatory enforcement, policy actions on social protection, free education, skill training and decent work help in the reduction of child labour. My government has carried out affirmative actions on these fronts.
Social protection: The Social Protection Authority has started making direct cash transfers to the vulnerable groups.
Access to education: Provision of free and compulsory education is mandatory under the constitution of Pakistan, a task being vigorously pursued at the governmental level. Regularly bimonthly stock-takes are taken to monitor enrolment and retention of students.
Skill training: The Punjab government has planned to impart technical and vocational training to two million youth by 2018. More than 350,000 youths were provided skill development training last year so that they can find better employment opportunities.
Decent work: The government of Punjab is implementing plans under the Punjab Growth Strategy framework for the creation of quality jobs aimed at encouraging parents to send their children to acquire education instead of condemning them to child labour.
I believe that awareness about child rights is critical to our efforts aimed at eliminating this scourge from the society. The media has its work cut out for itself in this regard. The public and private sectors need to come together on the shared agenda of ridding our country of the menace of child labour and educating the most vulnerable section of society. I have no doubt that if there is political will, no challenge is too daunting to be surmounted.