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.