Child Labor: Reasons and Alternatives

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Pakistan must improve its education and health statistics, with more budget allotment and stricter laws for compulsory schooling and immunization. Labor laws should also be strictly followed and child labor must be made illegal.

By Dr. Yasmeen Kazi

After every few months, we read about a domestic child laborer who is physically abused, being severely injured or dying. There is some hue and cry for a few days and then all is forgotten. Why does this occur and what should be done to prevent it?

Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention for the Rights of a Child, but does not follow it. International Children’s Day is observed every year to commemorate it and then it is forgotten. The convention defines a child as one who is under 18 years of age. According to Pakistan’s labor laws Article 11. {3) No child below the age of 14 years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any hazardous employment. That means a child of 15 years can be employed in a factory or mine or a child under 14 years can be employed in other forms of labor.

Article 25 A of Pakistan’s constitution says that The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.

So, all children should be in school. Why do they work?

Some parents have many children. The father is ill or unable to work for any reason and children are made to go out and earn money. In some cases, the families borrow money from influential persons and are unable to pay back. The whole family works for the money lender, free, including children. This is a form of slavery, which is again against the law.

Some whole families indulge in an occupation such as making bricks, which is hazardous for children.

Other working children are school dropouts. Sometimes, when I have asked parents why they make their children work instead of sending them to school, I get the answer, “We sent him to school but he was not going, therefore we sent him to work”. Why children are not in school?

Government schools are few in number. Some parents go for admission, but they tell them, “We don’t have vacant seats. We are full. Bring your child again next year.  Some have vacant seats, but ask the parents to pay for the child’s uniform and books, which they cannot afford. They are supposed to provide textbooks free of charge.

There is also the problem of ‘ghost schools’ which exist only on paper or the buildings are being used for other purposes. There are also ‘ghost teachers’ who draw a salary, but work elsewhere. Strict action must be taken to weed out such corruption.

Teachers are underpaid and frustrated. They take out their frustration on children by torturing and beating them, which again frightens children into staying away from school. Article 37 of the UN Child Rights says, ‘No child shall be tortured or suffer either cruel treatment or punishment’. Article 28 says, ‘Discipline in schools must respect children’s human dignity’. A bill was passed in Pakistan’s National Assembly against corporal punishment in schools and Madressahs, but this kind of punishment is still being carried out in some institutions.

Children who are neither in school nor go to work tend to roam the streets. Street children become drug addicts and are often sexually abused.

Why do parents go on having children, more than they can afford? Some women say that their husbands do not allow contraception, even though it may be dangerous to the health of women themselves. Men give religious reasons, saying that children are their wealth. Religious leaders must be convinced in favor of population planning s that they can influence people. The government does not publicize population planning as it used to in the last few decades. Also, Pakistan’s infant mortality and under five child mortality rates are high. About 69 per 1000 children die before they are five years old. 42 per thousand die before they are one year old. If parents were sure that their children would survive, they would have fewer children. Breast feeding and immunization are essential for child survival.

Educated women are more likely to practice birth control and bring up their children better and healthier. This brings us back to where we started.

Pakistan must improve its education and health statistics, with more budget allotment and stricter laws for compulsory schooling and immunization. Labor laws should also be strictly followed and child labor must be made illegal.

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The writer is Professor of Paediatrics at SMBB Medical College, Karachi Sindh

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