It is easy to sit in the comfort of your own home, in a familiar chair and then contemplate the whole concept of child labour.

Excuse me please, but could you move your feet a little while the maid who works at your house sweeps the floor?

The maid, is it? Looks more like a child of eight who is cleaning up a mess that you may have done, but is now paying her to remove.

So. Now, let us get back to child labour.

According to the statistics, which seems more kind than accurate, 12.5 million children within Pakistan, were, until June 2016, involved in labour. The statistics, when compared to the figures posted by international NGOs, appeared to portray a more positive picture of the issue of child labour in the country than figures that would, at least on the face of it appear more realistic. Consider, for instance, what local as well as international statistics had to say about the same.

Quoting Statistics

According to the statistics provided by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, back in the 1990’s, nearly 1 million children in the country were employed as child labourers, a figure that further revealed that nearly half of these children were under ten years old. Moreover, the median age at which children entered the workforce had been eight back in 1994, however, the figure had decreased to seven by 1996.

Children as young as 4 or 5 years of age are often forced to enter the workforce in several (rural) areas, or even the lesser developed cities across the country. Occupations such as bangle making, primarily in and around the area of Hyderabad, or making of the all famous soccer balls and other sports goods that places such as Sialkot are so famous for, are just some of the most (in) famous occupations that employ children as labourers.

Yet other occupations where children are still employed as labourers include the brick kiln industries, fishing industry, in agriculture, mining, weaving, and the packing or even construction sectors. It does not end here, however, since any number of children are employed at more informal employment sectors such as at car mechanic workshops, in the retail sector (as attendants at small shops), in hotels, cinemas, or even as street vendors. And before the rest of us start to smirk in complacence with the surety that we, at least, are not really involved in the whole ‘institution’ of child labour, let me bring it a little closer home to you; An ILO report, published in 2004, showed that over 264000 children in the country were hired out as domestic help.

Understanding What The Statistics Mean

There is little enough of ‘wrongdoing’ involved in the way that these children are employed. The agency that they are employed through consists of the more informal services of parents or other family members who hire out the children’s services in return for the mostly meagre sums of money that these children earn. For most people, this signifies that since these children have been hired out by their own family members, there is little enough that society at large can do to help them out.

At the same time, merely leaving them to their fate is not the right approach either. There have been many suggestions over time, as to how the issues relating to child labour, as well as the problem of child labour itself may be sorted out. So far however, any laws that have been passed in this cause have not worked out as they should have.

Take for instance Article 25-A of the Constitution that allows rights to education to all children between five to 16 years of age. Far from addressing this clause, or even ensuring that labour laws are aligned to meet the same, the condition on ground, for most of these children, continues the same. What is even more worrying is the fact that these children rarely get any rights as workers. What is worse is that being employed at this young an age means that the child in question, both male and female, are exposed to greater risks of physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse than anyone else.

What Society Needs To Do Now

Since this is the age of self-sufficiency, in politics, business, any avenue of life in fact, Pakistanis are more into taking charge of the way that a situation can be improved, than anyone else, the situation here demands a question. What exactly can we, and literally, here that means just you and I, what can we do to help improve the situation?

Forget age-old solutions such as ‘at least teaching the masi kay bachay who work in our house.’ We have never managed to do that yet, and besides, masi kay bachay (domestic help kids) are just the tip of this iceberg. No, if we need to address the issue, it must be the issue as a whole that should be looked into. One of the worst possible problems associated with child labour is the fact that, although the problem still exists, is that it has gone out of the public’s memory.

In slipping to the back of our minds, the issue has, to a great extent, been swept under the carpet, eventually leaving child labourers to deal with their fates themselves. The issue must be raised, again and again, one possible venue is social media forums, in particular, to create greater awareness about the same. That way, root causes, such as unemployment amongst senior members of their family, one of the primary causes which leads to children’s having to find employment to earn money for the rest of the family, may be dealt with, by more capable people also!

By:  Sarim Siddiqui