South Asia’s efforts to tackle child labor collide with reality

Six-year-old Litu looks for clothing customers in Dhaka. Child labor is a hidden issue in the region. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019

South Asia’s efforts to tackle child labor collide with reality

  • Many families in India and Pakistan depend on their working children for their livelihood
  • Most child laborers are exposed to additional risks due to their work in the informal sector

DELHI/KARACHI: In India, it is illegal to hire children under the age of 14 for any kind of work. Adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 cannot be employed in any hazardous occupations.
Yet, 17 years after the International Labor Organization (ILO) designated June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labor, stringent laws are still colliding with a grim economic reality. Take the case of 13-year-old Pawan, who lives in a New Delhi suburb. His workday begins at seven in the morning and ends 13 hours later, with a one-hour lunch break that he often has to skip.
This has been Pawan’s daily routine since he dropped out of school one year ago due to financial difficulties at home. His daily earnings, roughly 150 rupees ($2), supplement those of his father. Their combined income supports a family of six.
“If I didn’t work, it would be difficult to meet our family’s expenses,” Pawan told Arab News.
“With the situation at home, I cannot think of going to school. I have to work.”
Children frequently have to be rescued from the clutches of dodgy business enterprises. Manoj, 14, was working in a confectionery shop when he was rescued by activists of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), or Movement to Save Childhood.
Since the 1980s, BBA has rescued almost 100,000 children from factories and businesses that had employed them in violation of India’s labor laws.
The organization’s work has been recognized through a string of national and international awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize shared between founder Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai.
“Child labor is the cause of poverty and illiteracy, not the other way round,” Rakesh Senger, BBA’s director, told Arab News. “Over the years India has taken lots of steps to address the problem. As a result, the number of cases being reported has gone up.”
According to Senger, more than 1,100 cases were reported in 2017, a jump of 509 percent on the previous year.
Like its neighbor India, Pakistan is struggling to address problems associated with a 12.5 million-strong child workforce.
Most of these children are believed to work in the informal sector, where workers have limited access to labor welfare services, which exposes them to added health and social risks.
“The largest number are employed in agricultural activities, yet child labor in the sector is not addressed by the relevant legal framework,” said Salam Dharejo, a child rights activist.
To its credit, the government has launched a survey to ascertain the child labor population. The Federal Bureau of Statistics data for 2017-18 show that 3.22 percent of Pakistan’s labor force is comprised of boys and girls aged between 10 and 14.
In rural areas, child labor participation is as high as 4.18 percent, while the figure for urban centers is 1.4 percent.
The number of children out of school, 25 million, is also alarming for a country that has enacted laws but failed to fully enforce them.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s efforts to discourage the use of child labor have been recognized internationally. The country has cut child labor by almost a third, according to Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report 2019.
At the same time, many NGOs are working to educate and train children who have dropped out of school because of poverty.
“We are running community schools and training centers where mostly child labor are employed by different sectors,” Rana Asif Habib, president of the Initiator Human Development Foundation, told Arab News. These include a training school in Lyari, a poor neighborhood in Karachi.


Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

Updated 21 August 2019

Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

  • “The economic sky is not cloudless,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference
  • “That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today"

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday of the economic impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, hours before she was to receive British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his first foreign visit.
“The economic sky is not cloudless,” and global tensions and Britain’s impending departure from the European Union “are already causing us headaches,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference.
“That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today, about how we can avoid friction as much as possible as Britain exits the EU because we have to struggle to achieve economic growth,” the leader of the bloc’s biggest economy added.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed that an orderly Brexit would be “in every respect preferable” to a disorderly withdrawal of Britain, but that Germany was also preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Johnson, in a “do-or-die” gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not, at the risk of economic turmoil.
He is seeking to convince Merkel, and then French President Emmanuel Macron, to renegotiate elements of the UK’s impending divorce from the bloc, including the so-called Ireland backstop plan — something the EU leaders have already ruled out.
He hopes that the other 27 EU members will blink and make concessions to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would hurt people and companies on both sides of the Channel.
Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that “we’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in,” the message adorned with a Union Jack flag.
In Berlin, Johnson will be received with military honors at 1600 GMT before his talks with Merkel, then head to France for a meeting with Macron on Thursday.
At the weekend, all three will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit and its champion Johnson, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
Johnson’s tough stance has put him on a collision course with EU leaders who have insisted the withdrawal deal agreed under his predecessor Theresa May is final and stressed the need for unity among the other 27 nations.
EU Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the bloc would not cave in to Johnson’s demand to scrap the backstop plan, which would keep Britain in the European customs union if no trade deal is signed.
Johnson has slammed the backstop as “undemocratic” and charged it would prevent Britain from pursuing a trade policy independent of EU rules.
Berenberg Bank senior economist Kallum Pickering predicted that “if Johnson hopes to persuade Merkel and Macron to sweet-talk Varadkar into changing his tune, he will likely be disappointed.”
“All of the EU’s actions so far since the Brexit vote demonstrate that the EU’s priority is the cohesion of the 27.”
Merkel struck a cautiously hopeful note on Tuesday, declaring that the EU was open to “a practical arrangement” for the Irish border if it ensured trade and peace under the Good Friday Agreement.
Given the shock and dismay Brexit has sparked in continental Europe, its vocal champion, the flamboyant former London mayor and ex-foreign minister Johnson, is sure to meet political headwinds.
German media regularly characterises Johnson as a reckless political showman with Trump-style populist tendencies.
News magazine Der Spiegel recently caricatured him as the tooth-gapped cover boy Alfred E. Neuman of the American humor magazine Mad, with the headline “Mad in England.”
Tabloid-style Bild daily nominated Johnson as its “loser of the day” Wednesday after he “hit a brick wall” in his attempts to convince Merkel and Tusk to renegotiate parts of the withdrawal agreement.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung judged that “Johnson knows that the other 27 EU members will not throw Ireland under a bus, nor will they do anything to harm the integrity of the single market.
“His ‘alternative arrangements’ are just hot air. May spent the last three years looking for alternatives. There are none!“