By Ahtesham Azhar
KARACHI: Unprecedented rise in inflation as well as a lack of awareness about the repercussions of engaging children into bonded labour are largely contributing to an increase in the menace of child labour in Pakistan, particularly prevalent in urban towns and cities.
Throughout Karachi, a large number of children are working as domestic labourers in homes, shops and factories on daily wages. And they are among the most vulnerable sections of the society.
According to the Child Rights Movement, approximately 9.86 million children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 are an active part of labour force in Pakistan – with 2.58 million of them under the age of 14.
Gul Sher, a 14-year-old-boy, who is working since two years on a roadside tandoor in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, says that he wants to get educated but works for his family. “It is difficult to work in scorching heat, but since my father is also here, I work to support him,” he said.
He has six family members who live in Quetta, and is the eldest among all. He wants all of them to get educated. “I work here such that my other siblings can go to school,” he added.
Because prices of commodities are rising by the day, children are forced to work – to support their family just like the elder members. The majority of children work on daily wages ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 200 – enough to bear their simple meals for themselves – instead of depending on their parents.
Riaz Ahmed is a 13-year-old motorbike mechanic at a local pump in Dalmia. He works as a helper to his ustad and gets Rs 50 each day. He has five siblings and lives in Shanti Nagar in a two-room rented house. “I am happy with my job, as my support reduces the burden on my family.”
Since long, in Pakistan, hundreds of organisations, both from the government and the private sector are working to address the issue; however, have failed in eliminating it completely. This is primarily because of the ever-increasing poverty within the country.
Numerous legislations in the form of child protection acts and bills have also been introduced, but have never been implemented to make a visible effect.
For Nazra Khanum, a 66-year-old senior citizen of Karachi, who has seen all the ups and downs in the country, this is primarily because of unprecedented rise in inflation, which is a recent phenomenon. She said, “Earlier, only one family member used to work, and it was enough to feed the entire family. But now, you cannot even think of such pleasures. Everyone has to have a job to make the ends meet.”
“We were seven siblings and only our elder brother used to work. His income was enough to meet the expenses of our entire household,” said Khanum, adding that the issue could only be resolved if the government gave heed to the problems faced by the poor.
“If a person’s income is not sufficient to feed his family, what other option does he have other than forcing his child to work and earn some livelihood,” she wondered.
Besides, the extravagant lifestyle of today has also forced every member of the family to work and meet their luxurious expenses. “In our times people were simple with no wasteful demands. But now, the situation is otherwise,” she said. “They spend much on irrelevant luxuries. Even children want mobile phones nowadays.”
These children are often subjected to verbal as well as sexual abuse, and cases of violence against underaged labourers are countless.
“I am working since seven months and many times the customers have used abusive language over minor mistakes,” said 15-year-old Abdullah, who works at a local teashop. He hails from Peshawar and is working to support his family back home. “I cannot even speak Urdu properly but my father has sent me here to work due to financial problems,” he said. “We are nine siblings and my father and an elder brother also work to feed them all.”
It is difficult to work in scorching hot here, but since my father is also here, I work to support him
Gul Sher, 14
I am happy with my job, as my support reduces the burden on my family
Riaz Ahmed, 13
We were seven siblings and only our elder brother used to work. His income was enough to meet the expenses of our entire household
Nazra Khanum senior citizen
I can not even speak Urdu properly but my father has sent me here to work due to financial crisis