Childhood lost in Machhar Colony
By Amar Guriro
KARACHI: Instead of attending school, teenager Asif Rehman was sent to a fish-processing factory to work as a helper to workers. He works twelve hours a day, during which he carries fish from the iceboxes, cuts the fish into small equal parts and cleans the place at the end of the day.
Every day after getting up, he walks through the narrow streets filled with filth and construction debris of one of the biggest slum settlements of Karachi with around 1 million population – the Machhar Colony – to reach the factory. He returns after sunset when the ships are anchored at the Karachi Port. While he helps the workers in the factory, children of the same age in his neighbourhood play on the heaps of garbage.
Despite working for long hours, he earns only Rs 250 a day – the amount being deposited to the manager – as an instalment of the loan his mother took for his father’s treatment.
His father, Nazeem, a Bengali speaking professional fisherman, had fallen ill three years ago, and is sick since then. He has been infected by a disease unknown to mankind and his relatives often say that he is a victim of Kaala Jadu (black magic). Nazeem has become so weak that he is even unable to move and is lying on a bed day and night.
Zohrain, Asif’s mother, has no money to treat her husband and feed his five siblings. This is why she took a loan of Rs 30,000 from a local fish-processing factory – handing over her son as a helper. But despite treatment and visiting many faith healers, Nazeem has not yet recovered.
“I am working here since two years, but the factory’s manager still claims to have recovered only half the amount of loan my mother took. Hence, I will have to work for two more years,” said Asif.
He said the work was very difficult for him and he often gets injured in the way. Moreover, like every other child, he also wishes to get an education. “I want to go school and play with my friends, but have no other option,” he said sadly.
However, Asif is not alone; in these ill-fated slum settlements, there are many other children who become the “heads” of their families, just in their childhood. Because of poverty, the parents force their minor children to work and become bread earners.
Though, in the Pakistani society, child labour is a common issue, in slums like Machhar Colony, it gets worst. Most of the residents are Afghan, Bengali and Burmese – officially termed as illegal immigrants. They are not allowed to work and whenever they go outside, the colony police catch them, ask to show their identity and often demand heavy bribes to let them go. In such conditions they prefer to work inside the colony, where there are fewer chances to find a job and also the wages are very low.
“The residents are poor, they are not educated and due to the increasing living expenses, they prefer sending their children to work instead of schools,” said Abdul Haq, a young man who runs an NGO in the same colony.
Among other children, sixteen-year-old Babar is also one who works as a Pani wala. He carries blue plastic containers, which were actually made to carry the chemicals, to fill drinking water on a wooden pushcart and supplies water in different neighbourhoods.
His mother, Bano Abagul, an Afghan refugee who is a widow and mother of four, also lives in Machhar colony since ten years. She has no adult male member in the family to feed her children and pay rent for the small house located in Shamsi Mohalla. For that reason, Babar is forced to work and earn.
“There is no legal connection of drinking water in the colony, hence most of the people buy water from local shops who get the supply from me,” said Babar.
I am working here since two years, but the factory’s manager still claims to have recovered only half the amount of loan my mother took. Hence, I will have to work for two more years”
The residents are poor, they are not educated and due to the increasing living expenses, they prefer sending their children to work instead of schools”
There is no legal connection of drinking water in the colony, hence most of the people buy water from local shops who get the supply from me”