Child Labor in Pakistan

Child Labor in Pakistan

Child labor is the employment of children for work which results in harm to the child’s well being.[1]Not all kinds of work are hence classified as child labor. Indeed only those types of work done by the child which breach his fundamental rights are labelled as ‘child labor’. In Pakistan almost 215 million children work as child laborers[2] and these statistics point to the importance of reform and intervention in the laws and regulations dealing with child labor.

The Child Domestic Laborer

A majority of middle class and elite class households are now increasingly employing children as domestic workers. Such workers are often at the mercy of their employer and because they sometimes reside with their employer they are at risk of physical and sexual abuse. They are constant victims of mistreatment and harsh behavior and so due to a lack of executive intervention the employment of these laborers is informal resulting in no real backlash for unfair treatment. Children are often prevented from meeting their families and their salaries are cut for any number of reasons. As of 2013 as many as 264,000 children were employed as Child Domestic Labor and 21 reported cases of torture were documented in which the victims were children.

The Bonded Child Laborer

Bonded labor is a kind of slavery in which a person accrues cyclical debts or peshgi which he has to pay off by working for their employer. In such types of employment it is implied that the worker in question is tied to a creditor for a period of time until and unless his debt is paid in full.[3] Monetary advances to the worker are common and all kinds of work requires the advancement of money. The victims of bonded labor have to work in harsh conditions and in most cases the debts are so great that they are passed on to the next generations and in this way they continue as ‘eternal’ debts.

Bonded laborers suffer all kinds of abuse by their employers. Sexual abuse, torture and regular beatings are things that a bonded laborer faces daily[4]. These workers are also made to work very long hours in the sweltering heat. They are also sometimes trafficked from one place to another when the need for more labor arises and this disrupts the lives of entire families. Because of this the children of bonded laborers are mostly illiterate making them vulnerable to being recruited as bonded laborers.

Pakistan suffers acutely from this malady of bonded labor. According to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Person Report in 2013, bonded labor is the biggest of Pakistan’s Human Trafficking Problem.[5]

Children are also used as bonded laborers. They are sold off by their parents who are often poor and are duped into believing that their child will find good and decent work. Instead of this these children are either sold into the commercial sex market, as forced labor or into begging rings. A survey by Insan Dost Association conducted in 2013 revealed that in Sahiwal, Okara and Pakpattan’s 730 brick kilns alone, 31,000 children between the ages of 5-14 worked as bonded laborers. The most common reason for which children are sold off as bonded laborers is that they have large families to feed.[6] This points to the fact that if the government were to introduce sustenance programs for the poor instances of bonded child labor may decrease. Bonded labor in Pakistan is prevalent in agriculture and the production of bricks at brick kilns as both these sectors are under regulated by the governmental agencies.

The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (henceforth BLSAA) 1992 made this practice illegal and consequently in 2013 the courts freed 1,871 bonded labors. The majority of these laborers hailed from Sindh and were male. The fact that an estimated 2 million people are believed to be a victim of such a practice and only a fraction of that number have been freed shows how ineffective this statute really is in curbing bonded labor.

There is no regulation or monitoring of such practices and this provides an environment conducive to child bonded labor. No conviction had been procured under the BLSAA until 2013.[7] Additionally, only Punjab has introduced this statute on the provincial level with Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still lacking any such legislation.

NGO’s have established six relief camps for bonded laborers which are all present in Sindh. These camps are lacking in the most basic necessities of life which should be provided to every human being. There have been instances of people being kidnapped from such camps by their former landlords.[8]These camps should be better funded to ensure the safety and health of all their inhabitants.


Initiatives to stop child labor

The Child Support Program

This is a program through which the government helps prevent the parents of underprivileged from sending their children to work by providing them with financial assistance. Rs 300 is provided to parents with one child and Rs 600 is provided to parents with two children when they send their children (aged between 5-16 years) to school. This is an initiative that is introduced as a result of the MDG 2015 commitment of Pakistan of providing primary education to all children between 5 and 16 years of age. The beneficiaries of this program are selected through the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). In 2013-2014 an estimated 85,000 children were successfully enrolled in schools by this program.

Pakistan Bait ul Mal’s National Center for Rehabilitation of Child Laborers (NCRCL)

The NCRCL, which has been operating since 1995, provides children with alternatives to the labor extensive fields that hinder their basic rights. They are provided with education and clothing .Their parents are given financial assistance to encourage them to send their children to these centers.

There are currently 158 NCRCLs in Pakistan. There are 73 centers in Punjab, 36 in Sindh, 25 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 14 in Balochistan and 10 in ICT, AJK and the Northern Areas combined. Through these centers a total of 19,574 students have acquired primary education.

The Minimum Wage Policy

Minimum wage levels have been increased from Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 in 2013. The sustenance provided by the BISP has also been increased by Rs 200 to Rs 1200. Even though this does not directly affect child laborers, this will have an indirect positive effect on them. Because of the increase in the money being given to the parents of such children, the parents will forbear from sending them for work. However this minimum wage policy is not applicable to those who are working in the informal sector.

Child Labor Monitoring

Some monitoring is carried out by independent agencies as well. An example of one such agency operating in Sialkot’s football stitching industry is the Independent Monitoring Association for Child Labor.

Under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991 Child Labor Inspectors are also employed to monitor businesses to ensure that the ECA 1991 is complied with. However it is surprising that no such Inspector has been appointed by the government, indeed the government has charged labor inspectors who were employed under the Factories Act 1934 with this duty. These inspectors are already overtaxed and delegating further duties to them will only lead to more inefficiency to the process of child labor investigations of establishments.

In 2013 over the course of 1053 inspections under ECA 1991 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 156 cases were lodged. 14 cases were decided leaving 2667 cases pending. In Sindh from 2013 to 2014, 2155 inspections were carried out under Factories Act and 2155 inspections under the Shops and Establishment Ordinance. 66 cases were lodged, of whom 36 were decided. No inspections were undertaken under ECA 1991 so it is unclear whether the cases which were decided also dealt with the issue of child labor.

Statistics on other provinces are unavailable.

Legal Aid Support Units for Bonded Laborers

These Legal Aid Support Units have been set up mainly in Sindh. They are situated in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Benazirabad to provide legal help to bonded workers. Despite being provided with a sum of money as of 2013 these units have remained inactive.

Employers Federation of Pakistan

The Employers Federation of Pakistan has also been very important in the struggle against child labor. It has set up a Child Labor Cell which deals with this issue exclusively. The federation also holds regular seminars to mobilize employers, workers and child laborers. It has also distributed a newsletter on the subject.


International framework:

Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990

Pakistan ratified this Convention on December 12, 1990 with the reservation that its provisions need to be interpreted according to Islamic principles. It later withdrew this reservation on July 23, 1997. As international conventions are not directly enforceable in Pakistani courts, this convention is of no particular interest to those who wish to prosecute people who use child labor.

The government of Pakistan though has created a National Commission for Child Welfare and Development in the Human Rights Wing of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights. However it is a mere advisory body which ensures that the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other national/ international obligations are properly implemented. It hence makes limited to no difference to the issue of child labor.


ILO Minimum Age Convention 1973 (No 138) C 138 sets the minimum age of employment as the age of compulsory schooling’s completion as 15 years.

Pakistan ratified this convention in 2006 with the reservation of decreasing the age of employment from 15 to 14 (as under the Employment of Children Act 1991). Pakistan’s constitution under Article 25A states that all children up to 16 years of age should be given compulsory schooling. So as the convention states that employment should commence after the completion of compulsory education it seems logical that Pakistan should increase the minimum age requirement.


ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention 1999 (No 182)

This defines the following as worst forms of child labor; trafficking and sale of children and bonded labor as well as forced labor and forced recruitment of child soldiers. Prostitution as well as pornography are labeled as worst forms of child labor.

This convention was ratified in 2001 but as is evidenced by the high number of children working as bonded labor and use of children as domestic servants It’s success is doubtful.


National Framework:

Bonded Labor Systems (Abolition) Act 1992

This Act contains no special provisions for children however it prohibits all forms of bonded labor. Because children are also used as bonded labor the end of bonded labor will also lead to the end of child bonded labor.

The statute requires Vigilance committees to be set up. These are to be headed by the District Nazim and would have representatives from Bar associations, Press, Recognized social service and Labor Department of the Federal Provincial Governments.

The Committees are supposed to advise the District Administration regarding the implementation of the law and to help rehabilitate bonded laborers. These Committees have made minimal effort to stop and curb bonded labor as they suffer from a distinct lack of governmental support.[9] Cases of bonded labor come to the attention of the court only where the Supreme or the High Court of Pakistan takes direct action against those who employ bonded laborers.  This law is not as effective as it should be because the Vigilance Committees that are formed through this statute includes non-governmental and governmental agencies to interact making it difficult to function.

Furthermore in a few instances, the case of bonded laborers has been treated incorrectly as dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants under the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950. [10]Such laborers are not given the increased protection they should be given under the BLSAA. The Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 is used by landlords to demand large amounts of money from their tenants and when a bonded laborer flees from his owner or employer he is forced to return back to his owner on the basis of the fact that he has to clear his debt before moving. Indeed if the BLSAA is not given precedence over the law on tenancy, there will remain no point in maintaining such a law.

The police have been accused of being in bed with the masters of bonded laborers and are known to take bribes from such people. In instances where child bonded laborers have come forward to the Police for help, they have found themselves being returned to his master.[11]In an atmosphere of such injustice it is impossible for a bonded laborer to initiate proceeding against his master.


Constitution of Pakistan

Article 3 abolishes all types of exploitation and ensure gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle.

Article 11(3) states that children below 14 should not be employed in a factory or any such hazardous setting.

Article 37 (e) states that just and humane conditions of work for all are to be ensured so that they are not employed in vocations that are unsuited to them.


Employment of Children Act 1991

Schedule to the Act provides a list of occupations that are prohibited. Employment in any such mentioned occupation will result in imprisonment up to a year or/and a fine of up to Rs. 20,000. Inspectors are also required to be appointed to ensure that the Act is complied with however this has not been the case as labor inspectors under Factories Act 1934 have been used instead.

After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, child labor is a matter of provincial prerogative. Punjab Government adopted Employment of Children (Amendment) Act which retains the features of the 1991 Act and has remained intact in its entirety. All other provinces have refrained from legislating on the matter. The amended version of this Act in force in Punjab increased the fines for enforcing bonded labor on a person. It has also increased the daily payment due to a bonded labor from Rs. 10 to Rs. 100 but this law remains largely unused.


Minimum Wages Ordinance 1961

In June 2013 the Federal Government proposed an increase of Rs. 2000 in the minimum wage increasing it to Rs. 10,000. As the subject of minimum wage lay under the prerogative of the Provincial minimum wages boards under the Minimum Wages Ordinance 1961,the Punjab government increased the minimum wage in September 2013. However as this does not concern itself with the informal sector, domestic servants (a majority of which are child labors) are not going to see an increase in their wages. Even for those employed in the formal sector the non-maintenance of records and informal payment methods of wages makes the application of this Act very difficult.

Another important factor is that the variations in living costs in the different parts of the country makes such a law largely unhelpful to the exploited and underpaid parent of a child laborer. If the purpose of such a scheme is to help increase the standard of living of said parents and subsequently prevent them from being reliant on their child’s earnings for sustenance a more realistic standard of minimum wage should be set.


ILO Domestic Workers Convention 2011 (No 189)

The Convention requires member states to ensure the abolition of child labor. It also requires that a minimum age of employment be set.


Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Bill 2014

This Bill was tabled in January 2014 in the Senate of Pakistan and sent to the Senate Standing Committee on Law for review. Initially the bill will apply to Islamabad Capital Territory only but after it has been passed by both the senate and the National Assembly, Provincial governments will adopt the Bill. This bill provides widespread rights for domestic workers. If this law were to be successfully passed child domestic workers will also find themselves in a better position.


Factories Act 1934

This Act provides laws on the working conditions at the workplace. Sadly most of the establishments which employ children are found to be unsatisfactory under these standards. Indeed the carpet making industry is extremely notorious for the safety standards of the factories. The working conditions in these factories are very poor with children having to work in near darkness and extreme heat.[12]

It seems that the Labor Inspectors are unable or unwilling to penalize the factory owners for their carelessness in this regard as many factories which have such deplorable working conditions are still operating.



The Government should disallow public procurement from those factories where child labor is used to manufacture goods under the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 and the Public Procurement Rules 2004.

Those who employ bonded child laborers should be prosecuted under Sections 370, and 371 of The Pakistan Penal Code 1860 whereby the trafficking of a person for the purposes of making them a slave is punishable with a maximum penalty of life or for a term of 10 years and a fine. Under Section 374 of the Penal Code unlawfully forcing a person to work is also a crime punishable with a term of five years or with a fine or both.

Pakistan’s labor unions, which have historically been very weak, also need to play a part to negotiate for better terms and conditions. If people are encouraged to join these unions it will ensure that work standards are met and bonded labor, bonded child labor as well as child labor are all completely eradicated from the country.

However, admittedly the most potent weapon against child labor is education. Through the education of the masses the government can make people aware of their rights and the educated child will have more prospects of securing a good job. This will make sure that he does not fall prey to those recruiters who recruit poor and illiterate children by showing them dreams of a grand future. The basic legal and administrative infrastructure is also in place however it must be implemented properly if Pakistan has a hope of combating this evil.




[2] Child Labor International Labor Organization 2012

[3] See Muhammad Javaid Iqbal (2006), Bonded Labor in the Brick Kiln Industry of Pakistan, The Lahore Journal of Economics pg 101,

[4] Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “State of Human Rights in 2004”.

[5] Pakistan: 2013 Trafficking in Person Report, U.S. Department of State, 2013

[6] ILO (1988)

[7]According to the U.S State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s report 2013

[8] See Munoo Bheel case: SC asks police to recover Hindu Family by April 14

[9] See Bonded labor`1111 1

[10] See Supreme Court Appeal No. K 343 of 2002 for the inconsistencies in such an argument.

[11] Abdul Sattar (2004), Child Labour. The Cry of Innocence (2004) (online book)

[12] See Jonathan Silvers (1996), Child Labor in Pakistan, The Atlantic

Abiha Mohsin

Author: Abiha Mohsin

The writer is currently working as an associate in Islamabad with Naqvi Law Associates with a special interest in research as well as criminal and family law cases.


good knowledge of law. thanks for sharing. but irrespective of implementation aren’t there too many laws covering the same act making it difficult for law enforcers and courts to be exactly clear?

Quite right Umair. The interesting fact about law is that a number of laws may be applicable to one particular crime.
If the child in question is a bonded laborer in a factory he might find a number of laws being applicable to him. This might make it difficult for the courts but ultimately that is why the courts are present in the first place. They need to sort through to find the most relevant law and create precedent for the others to follow.

Abeeha Great piece of research. Awaiting many more research articles on other topics too, keep it up

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