Out of the 218 million children employed into the workforce worldwide, 62.1 million of the child labor takes place in Asia and Pacific, meaning that in prevalence, 1 in every 14 children is a victim of child labor in Asia and Pacific. The International Labor Organization coins the term “child labour” as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
The South Asian country of Pakistan is a country with a population of more than 201 million people. The last formal survey on child labor conducted by the government dates back to 1996, which stated that 3.3 million children were involved in child labor. However, ever since then, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan suggests that out of the 201 million civilians, 10 million children have fallen prey to child labor. In another shocking report by the Federal Bureau of Statistics under the Labor Force Survey 2007-2008, it is suggested that there are 21 million children involved in child labor in Pakistan between the ages of 10 to 14. Both girls and boys are involved in the workforce where boys make up for 73% and girls make up for the remaining 27%. The median age of children entering the workforce in Pakistan being determined at a mere 7 implies that not only are the employers breaking the law, but many jobs on the market are hazardous and beyond the bounds of these inexperienced juveniles.
One of the biggest reasons for child labor along with the likes of bonded labor is the fact that as a consequence of poverty, the survival of the children and that of their families is highly dependent on it. In a report on multidimensional poverty released by the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reform, it is revealed that 4 out of 10 Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty. While the poverty rates have fallen dramatically over the last decade, there is a significant gap between the poverty percentage of urban areas compared to that of rural. It’s no surprise that the rural areas account for the majority of Pakistan’s child labor. An ILO child labor survey from 1996 indicates that 60%, (1.9 million) of the child labor occurring in Pakistan was taking place in Punjab alone. Punjab was followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), where a million children were economically active.
Since 1996, the situation has only changed for the worse. The biggest reason for that being the loopholes in the constitution of Pakistan regarding child labor laws. Article 11, section 3 of the constitution states “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be engaged in any factory, or mine, or any hazardous employment.” This clause is extremely problematic on its own, but the fact that it’s not followed by a penalty in the event that someone should commit this crime, makes it all the more complicated. As I write this, I can already think of numerous ways an employer could go around this law to carry out child labor, all the while not violating the constitution.
The status quo has made no efforts to rectify the lack thereof and amend the clauses in order to combat the occurrence of child labor. The parties that have ruled over the years have not actively worked towarding solving this very real and pressing issue, which is proof that the status quo is ineffective and incapable of getting these children out of the vicious cycle of child labor, debt bondage, and poverty. An effective policy reformation and implementation process regarding socio economic welfare must take place in order for our children to live a life with opportunity and prosperity.