Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Child Labor in Pakistan

Labor Day in Pakistan managed to win little attention beyond the fact that it was a holiday. In our part of the world, labor is not just restricted to adults but also children. Mere words can't express the injustice in child labor gaining silent ascent from the people of Pakistan. The fact that every child has a right to education and good career opportunities is often more than not treated as a luxury only for the rich to afford. The government sector is busy scoring political points on promoting education through laptops, whereas, there's not much hope to be sought from the money minded private sector either. The education "industry" in Pakistan has become a booming business with institutions looking after their profits more than our literacy rate.

Unfortunately, there has been no official child labor survey in Pakistan since 1996. According to that survey conducted with the assistance of International Labor Organization (ILO) there were 3.3 million child laborers in Pakistan at that time. Whereas, according to All Pakistan Labor Force Survey this figure has increased to a whooping 21 million today! What adds to this dismal picture is the fact that in the 1996 survey report it was stated that one third of the working children were literate! Which means that simply ensuring primary education does not mean the child won't start working at this tender age. Either inaccessibility of schools, parents not being able to bare the costs for further studies or the fact that the curriculum does not meet the real needs of the students is to be blamed for this. Furthermore, girls face added difficulty due to the prevalence of discouraging attitude towards their education.

To understand the problem of child labor one needs to understand the psyche of those who are encouraging it. The employers with capitalistic ambitions push their costs low while seeking twice the productivity. Children are an easy prey, since they work for far less the amount and far more the hours. Secondly, one does not need to spend much on working conditions and other benefits since who is a child to bite the hand that feeds? 

Then come the parents who have plenty of mouths to feed with only four hands(in a perfect scenario i.e. otherwise there are only two or none at all). They themselves never attended school so they don't see the point in having a child stare at a paper that doesn't buy them food. Money is the need of the hour and its about time the child starts to act like a man. The child therefore leaves home with enormous amount of responsibility and a sense of purpose, which he never experienced when attending school. Such motivated employees are exactly what the employer is looking for in the end. 

Lastly, it is us - the spectators. The irresponsible citizens of Pakistan who seem to care only about our own selves and our own children. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the extra amount of resources we hold today belong to those without them. We refuse to consider a problem a problem unless or until it affects us in a direct manner. Forget the children who are working in the workshops, farms or roadside diners, how do we explain the presence of child servants and maids? Was it not for the accident of their birth, they too would've grown up to be just like you and me.

The fact remains that without any solid groundwork, you can not raise the future generations to be deserving of prosperity in Pakistan. However,we must understand that the burden lies not only with the government. It lies on the whole community to ensure that they do whatever they can to make a difference in the lives of these innocent souls who never had a choice. We need to destroy the culture of child labor by strongly protesting against it whenever we come across it. For those of us who have the resources, sponsoring a child's education would probably be the best investment of our life. Otherwise, simply playing the role of a mentor to ensure the child completes his or her schooling can be a great way to shape someone's destiny towards greatness!

Illustration: Robert Minor, The Daily Worker (22nd December, 1924)

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