View Full Version : Children at work - Roshaneh Zafar - 8 July 2018

8th July 2018, 12:38 PM
OFTEN the clouds that gather on the horizon dampen our worldview. Such was the state of affairs when we learnt about the plight of little Tayyaba. Many of us had sided with her employers, who were later found guilty of torturing her, as we believed that by employing little children in our homes, we secure their future by providing them with three meals a day and a place to sleep.

Some thought that, as in other similar cases, those involved in thrashing, torturing and terrorising the little girl would use their influence and get away with their actions. Others blamed the situation on poverty, illiteracy and ignorance, and lamented the overall social malaise and degradation of our values.

The good news is that the perpetrators did receive a three-year jail sentence. But the downside is that the Supreme Court had to take suo motu notice for this to happen. In other words, our judicial system has biases that go against the protection of the rights of the vulnerable, especially the poor, women and children.

Demand for child labour is on the increase in the country.

Modern-day slavery in Pakistan includes bonded labour, forced child marriage, domestic servitude and child trafficking. In 2012, the ILO estimated that there are 12.5 million children below the age of 14 years in the labour force. It also noted that half of them are less than 10 years, while around 264,000 such children are employed as domestic workers. Meanwhile, data on informal employment is difficult to come by. The same report mentions that child labour is on the rise in Pakistan compared to other countries that have similar conditions.

Apparently, with rising poverty, social vulnerability and displacement due to security issues and natural disasters, the demand and supply of child labour is on the increase. While an inadequate legal framework and poor oversight of laws could also be exacerbating the situation, the actual causes may be more complex. There are many theories about the causes of child labour. Usually, children are seen as household assets to be bargained away for the overall good of the family unit. In most cases, the returns on child labour are perceived as greater than the returns on schooling, especially when the latter is of substandard quality.

Even in purely economic terms, child labour is inefficient as it ruins a child’s future earning ability. There are a lot of misconceptions about child labour; in fact, there is no national minimum age for employment. This poses a challenge to establishing ethical work standards and is one of the reasons for increasing child labour in the country.

Further, the minimum age for hazardous work, currently 14 years, is not in compliance with international best practices and could jeopardise the life and health of children from 14 to 17 years. Not only that, children like Tayyaba who are employed as domestic servants are not considered to be within the ambit of hazardous employment for children. Such gaps in the law create a ‘free for all’ environment.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child protects the basic human rights of children defined as “the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life”. Like many other victims of child labour, Tayyaba, was deprived of not one but all such rights, suggesting how brutally we are devouring our own offspring for the sake of ‘securing’ our future.

There are practical solutions that are required to address this extremely grave concern; these needs to be prioritised by policymakers.

The most obvious one would be to increase the minimum age of employment under the Employment of Children Act (1991) from 14 years to 16 years and bring it in compliance with Article 25-A of the Constitution that promotes free and compulsory access to education for all children from five to 16 years. It is also important to legislate on the rights of domestic workers. The Domestic Workers Bill, passed by the Senate in 2017, was not ratified by the National Assembly. This bill though a step in the right direction, still puts the minimum age of employment at 14 years and does not outrightly ban child domestic labour.

Similarly other acts, like the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Act, 2018, have attempted to address this issue but the truth of the matter is that while laws in Pakistan criminalise all forms of modern slavery, very few cases have been lodged. There is a need for creating awareness through specially designed media campaigns, for accountability, and demanding a change in the attitude of employers towards domestic help. Fostering a mindset change can hopefully enable us to not only protect our children’s future but also reform society so that children are not valued as commodities.

The writer is founder and managing director of Kashf Foundation.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2018