Activists call for coherent reforms to end child-labour

LAHORE:Child rights activists and experts on Sunday urged the federal and provincial governments to introduce reforms and take drastic steps to abolish child labour in the province.

“Child labour is one of the worst forms of modern-day slavery,” they said.

Talking to reporter, experts while urging a ‘strategic policy plan’ to curb the menace, called for collective action and mutual cooperation to end child labour in the country.

Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) Secretary Syeda Kaneez Fatima said that child labourers at kilns were being deprived of their childhood. She urged the government to implement the Child Protection Laws in letter and spirit.

Fatima said that a large number of children still constitute a significant part of the labour force in Pakistan.

“Legislation relating to child employment are still not aligned with Article 25-A of the Constitution,” she said.

To a question, she said that the article gave each child a right to education, but unfortunately the issue of employment of children remained unaddressed, particularly in sectors like agriculture, factories, small car workshops, shops, hotels,

cinemas, vending on streets, fishing industry, mining, brick-kilns, weaving, bracelet making, packing and construction.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Dr Karamat Ali said that the Labour Force

Survey 2014-15 indicated that there were 3.70 million child labourers, aged between 10-17 years, in the country.

Out of this 1.64 million were engaged in hazardous works, which was defined as “any type of employment or work which by

its nature or the circumstances in which it was carried out is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young

persons,” he explained.

He said that unfortunately a majority of the 4.5 million brick-kiln workers in Pakistan were facing wages payment

problems. Karamat said that children of labourers and workers should be given top priority, who play a key role in

strengthening the national economy, adding that targets of development could not be achieved without prosperity,

empowerment and due respect of workers. He said that child-labourers were highly vulnerable to exploitation at

workplaces.

Noted lawyer Safdar Shaheen Pirzada said that there were more than 20 laws in Pakistan, which deal with different

aspects of child labour. These include anti-child labour legislation, child protection legislation and anti-trafficking and bonded labour laws, he said.

To a question, he said that most of these laws were enacted or reformed after 2010. If the above mentioned laws are implemented strictly, Pakistan would be free of child labour shortly, he added.

Pirzada said that the child labour laws in Pakistan haven’t been able to change the unfortunate situation. Had the child protection bill included a penalty or imprisonment for employing minors, it would have helped improve the situation, he added.

Zehra Khan, a noted labour rights expert, said that in Pakistan, the economy had been shifting from the formal to non-formal sector rapidly.

She said that all these basic rights that should have been given to child-labour as per the constitution of the country, labour laws and different international labour conventions and standards, were being denied.

Former Project Manager for Child Labour Elimination Programme, Punjab Labour & Human Resource Department, Malik Nazir said that forced labour imposed on children was the vilest act and none of societies allow this as children were the future and asset of any country.

Malik said that 87,000 children of brick-kiln workers had been enrolled in different government-sponsored schools for providing

them free education, who were previously working at brick-kilns.

Besides, the children have also been provided financial assistance of more than Rs 340 million, he added.

He said that establishment of quality educational institutions for the children of labourers besides social security hospitals and labour colonies were a proof of labour-friendly policies of the Punjab government.

“An amount of Rs 50 billion has been spent on special initiatives taken for prosperity of labourers and their children during the last four years,” he said.

To a query, Malik Nazir said that labourers were being provided quality medical health facilities in Punjab Social Security Hospitals and more than Rs 24.14 billion has been spent in this regard so far.

He said that 47,000 children of workers were being educated free of cost at Punjab Workers Welfare Board Schools.

Moreover, Rs 3.12 billion talent scholarships have been disbursed among children of workers, he said and added that Rs 2.55 billion marriage grants had been given to the children of workers besides Rs 2.74 billion death grants.

Residential colonies at the cost of Rs 12 billion had been established for workers in Lahore, Multan and Nankana Sahib.

To another question, he said the Punjab government had allocated Rs 5 billion until now for elimination of child labour and forced labour.

The Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Act is also an achievement of the Punjab goverment, he added.

Meanwhile according to data issued by the Labour and Human Resource Department, as many as 15,566 children are working at auto workshops, service stations, petrol pumps, hotels and restaurants in 10 districts of the province.

The 10 districts include Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Hafizabad, Khanewal, Multan, Okara, Rahim Yar Khan, Gujranwala and Sheikhupura, the data had been collected by the Bureau of Statistics, it said.

Of the 15,566 children, 4,683 children under the age of 14 years are employed at hotels and restaurants and 289 children at petrol pumps and service stations.