Child Labour In Pakistan: A Downplayed Issue
The issue of child labour has been marred with many discrepancies over the years. What has remained constant throughout, however, is the fact that this sensitive issue continues to be understated and despite the various legal mechanisms in place, child labour remains one of biggest growth-stunting problems of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This article will try and highlight some of these issues and bring the flaws of the protective mechanisms to the forefront.
Child labour manifests in many different forms and unfortunately in Pakistan the list is quite diverse, ranging from bonded labour, slavery and agriculture-intensive labour to the labour in many different types of industries which are all infested with poor working conditions for children, so much so that in most cases they are denied even the right of freedom of movement. One of the main reasons why Pakistan suffers from this evil is the fact that our legal system is severely underdeveloped in terms of rights of the child and it will remain this way unless there is greater public outcry and revision in legal mechanisms intended to protect these rights.
The first legal mechanism worth mentioning here is none other than the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, Article 11(2) of which states that,
“All forms of forced labour and traffic in human beings are prohibited.” And Article 11(3) which more specifically states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment.”
The first issue that comes out of this Article is that the age of majority in Pakistan (and most parts of the world) is 18, therefore, the age of 14 – which draws the line of unconstitutionality for children to work in factories or other hazardous employment – means that a child at the age of 15 working in any sort of hazardous employment would be constitutional. This is evidently wrong and the age should ideally be increased to the majority standard age of 18 years. The Employment of Children Act 1991 follows the definition of the Constitution and attempts to regulate the conditions of work for children under 14 years and forbid their employment in harsh occupations, although even this has not had a positive effect on the issue.
In an attempt to counter this issue, the Parliament legislated the Punjab Restriction on the Employment of Children Act 2016 (along with similar laws in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh), Section 3(1) of which states that, “An occupier shall not employ or permit a child to work in the establishment.” Even though the word establishment can throw a person off, it essentially entails all modes of work where children may be employed and therefore this piece of legislation can be seen as a positive step in trying to mollify the issue. However, it is extremely easy to produce such laws on paper while the real challenge is to implement such laws to an appreciable extent – this is where Pakistan lacks the most. According to a statement issued by the Child Rights Movement (CRM), an estimated 12.5 million children in Pakistan are involved in child labour – almost a decade after June 12 was declared the ‘World Day Against Child Labour’. Furthermore, the ILO Report of 2004 states that the number of children employed in domestic help is a staggering 264,000. It is inevitable that these figures have only risen since then.
The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 also contains in Article 25A, the right to education, more specifically stating that, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Despite this mechanism in place, 5.1 million children in Pakistan are still out of school, which fortifies what was said earlier – implementation is what actually matters. The fact that so many children are not able to finish even primary school automatically leads to children working odd jobs (usually hazardous) from an early stage in life and are incorporated into a vicious cycle of either unpaid or very poorly paid work. There have been various recommendations for child protection laws to be aligned with Section 25A of the Constitution and for the arrest of people who employ children, although there has not been much positive action in furtherance of the same.
Interestingly, Pakistan has ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999 (ILO Convention No.182), which urges State Parties to take immediate and urgent measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour. However, this does not at all mean that the Convention gets paid heed to, rather it is seemingly just a way to boost the nation’s image (at least on paper). Indeed, for the most part, India also has large volumes of child rights violations, especially when it comes to child labour – the only difference being that they have not even ratified the ILO Convention 182 and this speaks for itself.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan heard an interesting case titled Farooq Ahmed Vs. Federation of Pakistan in 2005. Although the majority of the case revolved around the infamous Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000, the judgment is worth noting for our purposes. The honourable judge stated that children in Pakistan attained maturity at an early age due to the tropical climate and abundance of spicy food in Pakistan. The reasoning of this judgment speaks volumes about how problems relating to children and the respective laws need thorough revision so that the rights of the same are protected efficiently. A child is a child anywhere. To say otherwise presents huge problems, not only for the state, but for the population at large. What is needed here is awareness and accessibility, so that even children or their parents are aware of the laws that protect them and infringements of their rights decrease significantly.
The language of rights is diverse in pluralistic societies such as Pakistan. In order to reach a consensus, highly inclusive conversations need to be conducted so that laws may be updated in harmony with the Constitution and the paradigm of child rights can be improved across the board.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.