Why children shouldn’t work
WORLD Day against Child Labour passed by relatively quietly in Islamabad this week, overshadowed by the presentation of the federal budget the day before and the culmination of the lawyers’ long march in the capital the day after. However, a couple of non-governmental organisations concerned with child welfare managed to remind us of the grim fact that over 10 million children below the age of 14 in Pakistan are working, often in hazardous conditions, to support their families when they are supposed to be in school. Article 11-3 of Pakistan’s constitution prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in any factory, mine or other ‘hazardous’ employment. The Employment of Children’s Act 1991 prohibits child labour in certain occupations, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 made bonded labour illegal. Furthermore in 2001, a National Policy and Plan of Action for the Abolition of Bonded Labour and Rehabilitation of Freed Bonded Labourers was announced. But despite all these national initiatives against child labour, plus our signing and ratification of international instruments like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in 2001, child labour remains a persistently pervasive problem.
This has been attributed not only to ineffective enforcement of child labour laws but to the general acceptance in society of this practice, justified in the name of poverty. An effective strategy towards reducing if not ending child labour must necessarily take a multifaceted approach. This includes the simultaneous implementation of an anti-poverty plan that compensates poor families for lost income from working children. Moreover, simply making schooling mandatory is unlikely to reduce the number of working children unless the education system is made attractive and relevant to the needs and aspirations of these children and their families. Finally, our child labour law also leaves much to be desired, mainly because the three major sectors in which child labourers are mostly employed – agriculture, domestic work and self-employment – are excluded from its purview. This needs to be gradually corrected while the minimum age of employment ought also to be raised from the current 14 years to at least 16 years, although the international standard is 18. If poverty is a major cause of child labour, impoverishment is also caused by child labour. Neither can we eradicate poverty by child labour, nor can any family be able to rid itself of destitution through child labour.