Millions Engaged in Child Labour in Pakistan

13/02/2012 - A struggling economy and high food prices have forced many families to send their children to search for work instead of going to school.

Many in Pakistan feel that issues affecting child labour will not gain attention from the government as frequent political crises in Pakistan mean the nation’s leaders are unlikely or unable to deal with underlying issues of poverty.

Economic pressures are forcing young Pakistanis to leave home in search of work.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), up to 10 million children are estimated to be working in Pakistan.

The latest figures from the Pakistani government show three million child labourers, but also date back to 1996. The lack of current government statistics underscores how little attention has been paid to documenting the problem, which is likely to get worse given the makeup of the fast-growing population.

It is estimated that 45 percent of Pakistan’s population is below the age of 22.

The plight of child labourers in Pakistan came under international scrutiny when it was discovered that children were hand-stitching soccer balls for foreign sports equipment companies.

Despite the outcry over child labour and exploitation, according to Hussain Naqi, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, “The problem is that the whole industry has moved into private homes, which has made it a bit difficult to monitor if child labour is being used.”

Child labour occurs not only in the garment industry, but also in very dangerous sectors like glass bangle manufacturing, cleaning of oil tankers, poultry farms, motor workshops, brick kilns and working as domestics in small hotels.

“It is all very damaging for a child’s psychology,” said Salma Jafar, executive director at Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group. “Once you are abused, you grow up with that abuse.”

The official statistics claim that of the 3.3 million working children, 73% are boys and 27% are girls and that over 3,000 children still enter the labour market each month.

Children are very often forced into a situation of bonded labour by poverty, and there are also reports that millions of children suffer under the bonded labour system in brick kilns, carpet industries, agriculture, fisheries, stone/brick crushing, shoe-making, power looms, refuse sorting.