Child labour seems to be an intractable problem in most of the Third World since it is intricately linked to the demographic and economic conditions of countries. Pakistan too faces the issue of child labour. The country has 3.3 million children who have been forced by their circumstances to work to supplement their family income. The state has, however, not stayed a silent spectator of the tragic phenomenon, as governments, from time to time, have taken measures to curb children’s working in hazardous occupations and to entirely eliminate the tricky problem. The Constitution of Pakistan prohibits child labour. There are laws under which employers forcing children to work can be punished with jail time and fine. It is illegal to employ children below the age of 14. In the Islamabad Capital Territory, the minimum age limit is 16. Under the 18th Constitution (Amendment) of 2010, the state is obligated to provide free education to children in the age bracket of 5-16.
The state is obviously hamstrung by its limited funds and official manpower at its disposal to fully and practically eradicate the scourge. Children are driven to work from as early as eight years of age to enable their families to fulfil their minimum requirement of food, clothes and a roof over their head. This grim struggle for survival from very early in life deprives them of education. Their primary concern is to stay alive. It’s a very catch-22 situation. Thus the poor are caught in a vicious cycle of misery. Child labour is prevalent in both urban and rural areas though, most children scrape out a living in cities where they come from far-flung villages and rural towns. Children largely work at auto workshops, restaurants, bakeries and tandoors. The number of child rag-pickers is also rising as prices of daily-use essential items are going through the roof.
A multi-pronged strategy is needed to effectively tackle the long-lasting issue of child labour. The Sindh government is alive to the humanitarian issue, so it plans to increase the number of shelter homes for disadvantaged children.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2022.