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
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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.


China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

Updated 43 sec ago
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China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

  • Xi JingPing will be in Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year

BEIJING: Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said Monday, as Beijing tightens relations with Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China — his country’s sole major ally — four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
“China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter,” CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a “series of important consensus” in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will “push for new progress” in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations — a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year — are also at a deadlock.
“The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specializing in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
“You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role,” he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit — with logistics finalized only last month.
In recent days, hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, pruning bushes and replanting flowerbeds on the approaches to the monument, which commemorates the millions of Chinese troops Mao Zedong sent to save the forces of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, from defeat during the Korean War.
A detachment of soldiers in white jackets was also seen outside the Liberation War Museum — which includes a section on the Chinese contribution — potentially indicating that it may be on Xi’s itinerary.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it had learned about Xi’s travel plans last week.
“We hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which will lead to the settlement of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.
It will be Xi’s first trip to North Korea since taking power in 2012, though he visited the country as vice president in 2008.
In contrast, Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year — an unbalanced exchange that has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
According to diplomatic sources in the North Korean capital, after Kim’s many trips to meet Xi, there were increasingly strong feelings in Pyongyang that the Chinese leader should reciprocate for reasons of saving face.
“From a North Korean perspective, it’s time for Chairman Xi to visit,” said John Delury, an expert on US-China relations and Korean Peninsula affairs at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“They do keep score and it’s like four to zero,” he recently told AFP. “So far, Xi has approached China-North Korea relations very much as a function of US-China relations and kind of calculated in terms of that.”
The visit also comes as negotiations between Trump and Kim have soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, Kim has accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” and given it until the end of the year to change its approach.
Still, the nuclear situation is “under control for now,” said Delury.
“That creates a space, a window where Xi could make a visit without expecting like a missile test the day he leaves or something like that,” he said.