South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

* Need stressed to address the issue in letter and sprit

By Haris Hanif

KARACHI: Ironically, there is no separate policy to ban child labour in the country according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) while growing inflation is compelling people to send their children to work which is clear usurpation of their due rights besides destruction of their personality.

President Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF) Rana Asif Habib said this while talking to Daily Times on Sunday.

He said being a poor country Pakistan is indebted to the international financial institutions and to pay the loans and interest, the government is compelled to increase the prices of utilities and indirect taxation is imposed on masses, which results in increasing child labour. Different natural disasters like earthquake of 2005 and the flood of 2010 further escalated child labour in the country. The traditional labour in the agricultural sector also exploits children and makes the situation worse, he added.

Whereas, there are significant child labour legislations in Pakistan including the employment of children Act 1991 in which a child’s age is still a question mark, he said.

IHDF President said child labour has been included in labour, education and the child right policies as well as the national planning action of children rights. The Ministry of Labour and Manpower and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have done lots of work to tackle the problem of child labour with the likes of Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) addressing the issues, policies and programme levels, but population growth, increasing poverty, low tax to GDP ratio, consumer economy, vested interests, feudalism, hypocrisy, nepotism and intellectual corruption are the stubborn resistance to change the state of children in Pakistan.

According to the recent study conducted by Habib which aimed to critically evaluate the effectiveness of child labour policies from 1947 to 2010, an attempt has been made to point out the major socio-economic factors responsible for making the policies ineffective and to attract the attention of the policy makers, planners, legislators and child labour experts to overcome the complex and multi-dimensional problem of child labour.

Another aim is to analyse the status of reflection of policies in national laws and program level impact of government interventions.

The methodology is to review constitution and laws and their implementation mechanism with respect to child labour issue and international conventions relating to child labour and their obligations.

“I also analysed the labour policies, children’s rights and plan of action in special reference to child labour”, Habib said.

He maintained that Pakistan has an agriculture-based economy with colonial background and less industrialisation. Fifty-four percent of the total population was living below the poverty line. In the population paradigm 73 million were children (under 18 years of age) who were skilled as well. However this massive flood of talent has no channel to run in smooth flow. If this human capital is invested and utilised through institutions, the outcome will be a healthy society.

Otherwise the same can be the reason of destruction for the whole country as these children involve themselves in street crimes, suicide bombings and drug peddling, he said.

He informed that no comprehensive work on the extent of child labour in Pakistan has been conducted since 1996, making it difficult to assist the severity of the issue and address the problem appropriately.

“According to a 1996 study by the ILO 3.3 million children are the victims of child labour in the formal sector in Pakistan. There are insufficient programmes to identify and protect victims of forced labour, particularly bounded labour, child labour in the informal sector such as domestic work, rug picking, and children in commercial sex.”

At the time of independence, Pakistan adopted some hereditary laws also which include Contract Act of 1872, Pakistan Penal Code (1860) Children Employment Act (1938) and Shop and Establishment Act etc. In the first five-year plan only Pakistan realised that its population would be a bigger threat to its economy. Measures were taken, however, due to the political turmoil, instability in the country and inconsistent policies made the situation worse.

He said since inception, Pakistan has had several wars with its neighbour country (India). Due to its Geographical setting and political reasons, a huge amount is allocated for defence.

When Pakistan faced the barriers in the international trade in nineties, then only the issue became a topic of discussion for the concerned authorities.

“According to the Section 2 of Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991, a ‘child’ is any person under the age of fourteen years. Section 3 bans employment of children under-14 in jobs connected to transport by railways, cinder picking, cleaning of an ash pit or building operations in railway premises, catering at a railway station or on a train, construction of a railway station, working close to or between railway lines, working in a port area, and manufacture or sale of fireworks.

“The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 clearly defines different terms such as peshgi (or advance), bonded debt, bonded labour, bonded labourer, bonded labour system, family, and nominal wages. According to this act any form of bonded labour is against peshgi. The Act abolishes the bonded labour system with immediate effect.

“The Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (promulgated in October 2002) is applicable to all those who are 18 years or less. Exploitative entertainments, according to this law are all activities in connection with human sports or sexual practices, and related abusive practices.

Habib said other then the ordinances listed above Pakistan is a signatory to different international laws which include ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No 182); ILO Forced Labour Convention (No 29); ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No 105); and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Though Pakistan is signatory to UN convention for the rights of child which says every person under 18 years of age is a child, whereas, the employment of children act (ECA), 1991 prohibits only children under 14 years of age from working in factories and hazardous employment, he pointed out.

Though there is an act for bonded labour, its implementation has been a problem since its existence. The utilisation of funds has not been without problems. The Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (promulgated in October 2002) does not save children from being victims of the law. Trafficked children are arrested and detained as illegal aliens, rather than being recognised as victims. The prosecutions of criminals need to be complemented with legislation that focuses on protecting children in custody, have access to rather families and other support services.

In 2009 the policy makers from, the ministry of labour and manpower outlined a new law, the Employment and Services Conditions Bill 2009. This proposed law aims to consolidate all labour legislation under new law by completely cancelling 11 existing laws and partly cancelling two laws. Exclusive laws dealing with child labour i.e. Employment of Children Act 1991 and Employment of Children (pledging of labour) Act 1933 stand to be repealed once the proposed law is propagated.

With the active support of ILO, Pakistan has developed a DWCP and the Ministry of Labour, Employer Federation of Pakistan, Pakistan Worker Federation has expressed commitment to implement it. The DWCP addresses the issue of child labour both at policy and programme level.

Two district coordination committees on child labour have been established for the district of Sukkur and Sahiwal, he informed.

Habib said a lot has been done regarding policies, laws, capacity building, and awareness, however, there is need to have a comprehensive child labour program from all sectors for example domestic child work, rug picking, bounded labour and child trafficking.

Source: Daily Times – 21.03.2011