The question of child labour in the country has been debated again and again. But there is really no debate about it; children should be at school and other means need to be found to help families who depend on their earnings to survive to manage. We simply cannot justify the fact that 25 million children in the country are out of school, out of which 15 million are part of the labour force. A seminar in Karachi held by the Society for the Protection and Rights of the Child and the Child Rights Movement, an umbrella of 60 Sindh-based organisations working for child protection, has noted that the abolition of the 1991 Employment of Child Act with the passage of the 18thAmendment had left children increasingly vulnerable. New legislation at the provincial level is needed as part of the devolution process. It has also been pointed out there has been no survey of child labour in Pakistan for 20 years. Such a study is badly required to determine precisely how many children go out to work and in what circumstances.
There is also a need to eradicate the confusion that exists over child labour. Perhaps, speaking of the immediate, it is inevitable. But at the very least we can adopt measures to protect children in their workplace as has happened in the Sialkot sports industry as a result of ILO intervention and international pressure. Schools have been set up for children where they work and a limit put on the hours of labour. The same is true of the carpet industry. But in the longer run, this is not enough. As stated at the seminar, ‘a child employed is a life destroyed’. We need to ensure that the lives of so many children in our country are not destroyed. Too many children are denied opportunity because they must go out to work. There have also been findings that the poor state of public sector schools and the refusal of children to attend them results in parents instead sending them out to work in the hope that they will learn a trade. This cycle of evil needs to be addressed collectively and everything possible done to protect children, a large number of whom are employed in hazardous professions despite the fact that Pakistan has signed international conventions against such practices.