In a politically unstable nation wracked with all kinds of problems, ranging from the socio-economic problems of malnutrition and superfluous population growth to the security challenges posed by terrorism to name a few, the biggest predicament is reaching decisions on which to tackle on priority. I do not mean to undermine the severity of any of the matters that trouble Pakistan, but I do strongly believe that the lion’s share of the issues has its roots in the inadequate attention paid to the exploitation of the country’s most vital asset, its children.
With the recent child abuse scandal of Kasur making headlines, people may comment that in comparison, the common problem of child labour holds no significance. However, deeper analysis of the issue in question has allowed us to deduce the enormous extent to which the prevalence of child labour has in encouraging all kinds of torture under the guise of employment. Sending children to work at raw ages, with negligible understanding of how they could be harmed, is an open invitation to human predators on the watch. This is a dangerous phenomenon because the perversion may only manifest itself at a later stage of life, when the mental or physical damage is beyond any amelioration.
The social evil of child labour prevails not only in the majority of local industries, but is also dominant in every other wealthy household, in busy markets and on traffic-ridden streets. It is not uncommon to have a six-year old male peering through your car window to nag you to purchase a garland for the important female in your life, or insist on making your windshield squeaky clean with his piece of yellow cloth and bucket of soapy water during your stop at the gas station. The adorable little waiter at your favourite dhaaba is probably no more than a decade old. He should be in Math class, battling word problems but as long as you get your warm cup of tea every evening, who cares? There are a multitude of more heart-wrenching stories of children growing up as carpet-weavers, serving as apprentices for welders and undertaking hard, dirty and unsafe work as car mechanics, electricians and so on, earning meager amounts to counter economic difficulties at home.
Young girls are not excluded from underage work, and often find themselves in the role of nannies or maids at tender ages, taking care of babies and doing an unfair chunk of household chores, while the parents attend elaborate dinner parties. Often the parents of these girls are drowned in poverty and debt, and leave their daughters at the mercy of urban employers, who are known to beat them for supposedly substandard work, with the girl’s mother only visiting only once in six months to collect the remuneration for her offspring’s work . Others are hired in factories or beauty parlours, where cruel supervisors are able to get away with paying them wages as low as 300 rupees a week.
In a state like Pakistan, where labour is cheaper than fuel, an increasing number of young people are losing their childhood to days of slogging and drudgery of all forms. We all create a great hue and cry about human rights and corporate social responsibility when eminent sporting brands became notorious for their use of children in the manufacture of footballs in Sialkot, but we selfishly and very conveniently ignore the cases of child labour that we encounter on a routine basis, not just in the markets or industries, but even within the four walls of our comfortable homes.
The contributor is a student of IoBM, Karachi.