Child Labour and Pakistan

Report by Zia Syed
Published: 10/05/05

Child Labour Seminar 12-14 September 2005

Speech by Mr. Pirzada Imtiaz Syed,
Secretary General
All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU)

Dear Brothers & Sisters,

I have great pleasure and immense pride in attending this historical Asia Regional Child Labour seminar organized by the IFM - SEI and Indian Rashtra Seva Dal here in historical place AGRA. I also thank for kind invitation extended me to participate in this historical workshop.

At the outset, permit me, on behalf of my organization APFUTU, members of my delegation and on my personal behalf, to extend warm and hearty greetings to all of you present in this Asia Regional seminar. My warm and hearty greetings are also due to the heroic people of Rashtra Seva Dal as well as this country.

Country Overview

Pakistan since its independence in 1947 has been unable to gain political stability. During the span of 57 years, Army has ruled the country for more than half of the period. However, it is pointed out that the political Government too failed to handle the social, political and political problems. None of the Government even if it is Dictatorship or political, has solved the problems of the masses, which resulted the poor are getting more poor and rich are getting richer. General Pervaiz Musharaf took over the charge of Chief Executive of Pakistan, by overthrowing the Government of Nawaz Sharif on his return from Colombo, Sri Lanka on 12 October 1999.

Child Labour

Child labour is not one of those issues which get solved by a stroke of a pen. Long term planning is required by the State. Steps taken today bear fruit many years down the road. So sooner those steps are taken the better as the process is slow. Tragedy is that the attitude of the Governments appears to be to either deny its existence; or justify it as being inevitable. Denial, however, does not help. Child labour is a cause and a consequence of the socio-economic and political reality. This problem is closely interlinked with various other socio-economic and political problems of this continent. Landless, poor access to resources and production, gender inequity, inequitable distribution of land, unemployment programs and environmental degradation are the underlying factors for the child labour problem in this continent.

Moreover, the Government authorities in Pakistan appear to seriously believe that the problem of child labour increased beyond all proportions, and that there is nothing to panic about. It is true that Child labour is not an isolated phenomenon. It is an outcome of a multitude of socio-economic factors and has roots in poverty, lack of opportunities, explosive rate of population growth, growing unemployment, uneven distribution of wealth and resources, outdated social customs and norms and a plethora of other factors. Elimination of child labour is one of the top priorities of globe. It cannot be easily resolved; but it does not mean that it cannot be settled. One way is to legally abolish child labour; this can either be in stage, like choosing the hazardous industry first, and gradually moving to the other areas or it could be a general prohibition.

There is no doubt that any approach must take into account the households of the child workers, which in almost all cases make the decision to send the children to work; and on the other hand, the employers who basically decide about the number of children in the labour force, and the terms and conditions of their employment. Child workers` families can be helped by poverty alleviating measures. And the best way to accomplish this is through enhancing income and employment among the adult workers as there is a close link between child labour, and the employment and income status of these households. Apart from some sort of stipends to families of those working children who decide to go to school instead of work, education must be made compulsory. Child labour is a complex problem which demands a range of solution and sensitive treatment. The international community must take greater responsibility for funding local programs that will tackle the root causes of child labour. I was talking, rather listening to some friends from various parts of India and they were telling about the low quality of education in this country. Their complaints sounded like a carbon copy from Pakistan. You encounter similar comments in Nepal or in Bangladesh. The consequences of this kind of grievances are complex when there is competition between easy jobs and the consequent money how little it may be and the low quality education. I would say that the lack of social concern has been the biggest problem behind it. And unless each other of us realize that if we want to save our country, it is not the nuclear weapons, it is not the missiles, it is not the bombs, and it is not the bullets that can save mankind! It is the literate children, it is the educated children, it is the free children who will save the mankind tomorrow.

Most of us feel that we are poor. We cannot do anything if we start our NGO, Trade Union activity with the kind of perception and the opinion that we cannot abolish child labour. Why is it not possible? We have to make a clear decision whether we are in favor of or opposed to child labour. There is nothing in between. We all know that we cannot abolish child labour overnight. Nevertheless we should have the commitment that want to abolish child labor today and now. Of course it will take time but the commitment must be there.

During last year the Federal Bureau of statistics released the results of its survey funded by ILO`s IPEC (International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour). The finding were that 3. 8 million children in the age group 5 to 14 years are working in Pakistan out of a total 40 million children in this age group; fifty percent of these economically active children are in the age group 5 to 9 years. Even out of these 3. 8 million economically active children, 2. 7 million were claimed to be working in the agricultural sector. Two million & four hundred thousand (73 % percent) of them were said to be boys.

Regardless of the number, however, the misery is that millions of children continue to suffer while the Government, aided by bureaucracy, procrastinates a solution to this problem. Complacency of the nation with this problem is partly attributable to the fact that majority of the child workers are concentrated in the invisible sector of the economy. They are working in sectors such as brick kilns, construction sites, factories, carpets, tanneries, fire-works, and red light areas. Sixty five percent of the country’s population lives in the villages and majority of the child workers are concentrated in the rural areas. There is no better way to prevent child labour then to make education compulsory. The Western countries recognized this a long time ago. Laws were enacted very early to secure continued education for working children; and now they of course have gone a step forward, and require completion of at least the preliminary education of the child before he or she start! s to work. Martin Luther as far back 1524 sent a letter to German Municipalities insisting it was their duty to provide schools, and the duty of parents to educate their children. In Sweden, a royal decree in 1723 instructed parents and guardians to diligently see to it that their children applied themselves to book reading. In Europe, one country after another, Scotland, Prussia (1817), Austria (1869), France, United Kingdom (1880), and Italy made education compulsory. In 1872, Japan became the first non-Western country to make elementary school education compulsory with declaration by the Meiji Government.

By the early 1970s, the development issue was the top priority and for the last 35 years a lot of research and project implementation has been done. By now, the world knows what to do with poverty. But for the last ten years the support is going down. If we do not provide enough resources to overcome poverty and lack of education then we cannot hope to entirely eliminate child labour.

The reason behind it is that we have a foreign agenda! We are foreign funded, our target, schedule, everything is from outside. We cannot move from treetops to grassroots! Nature starts its course from the roots and then penetrates the branches. We are actually holding the branches and trying to dig out the roots. This problem can never be solved like this even in the next 1000 years. Secondly, the success or failure of any project is our responsibility. President Bush does not know better than us that which budget is successful or which is not! Maybe our budget is more successful than what they actually assess. We should actually be concerned about it ourselves. There is no doubt that we are under the spell of the foreign agenda. But who is responsible for our children?. But where are the displaced working children?. Are they Working?. Are they on the streets?. Are they in some other jobs?. Have they crossed the boundaries of the football stitching, making the bricks or carpets in industries?. If they have then how many?.

We will address the answers to all these questions, because they are all our children. Whatever behavior we have towards our children, that includes children from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. What answer are we going to give them after 20 years, when they are 30 - 35 years old?. The donors do not have the answer, in fact we will have to be answerable to them.

In conclusion, a society can be judged by the way it treats its future generation. Our prestigious asset is our future generation. The legal framework is there, the laws are there, the institutional framework is there; all we need is to scale up the efforts to at least achieve elimination of half of the child workers. For the largest if we reach the target of 50 % (percent), as a Male by 2010, we will feel successful. It is for all of us to develop a quantitative mechanism as to how the numbers are increasing or decreasing, to see our progress.

Thanks all of you!