Combating child labour
IT is not certain how many young workers in the NWFP will benefit from the $1.5 million anti-child labour project supported by the ILO and the SDC, the official Swiss aid agency. But it is clear that there is a pressing need for such programmes in Pakistan where there are approximately 10 million child labourers, many of them working under hazardous conditions for several hours a day. Awareness of this scourge is on the rise and besides having national legislation on the limits of child labour, Pakistan has ratified international agreements such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. It is thus obligated, morally and by law, to eliminate child labour. However, under the prevailing conditions where at least a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line and where children work to supplement family incomes, it is unrealistic to suppose that this goal can be achieved anytime soon.
In such a situation, it is perhaps necessary to adopt an approach that combines poverty alleviation measures with better working conditions for children in occupations that do not pose risks to their health and that allow them enough time for schooling. At the moment, far too many children are employed in hazardous occupations like mining, deep-sea fishing, bangle-making and leather tanning that involve exposure to noxious chemicals. Many children are also treated badly by their employers who exploit their tender age, vulnerability and economic situation to suit their own purposes. Unfortunately, the number of prosecutions for violence against child workers is low – an indication of the government’s apathy to conducting regular inspections of workplaces and arresting employers guilty of abusing children. If the government persists in showing this attitude, it cannot expect the law to take its course or the goal of eliminating child labour to be achieved.