Childhood denied | Pakistan Today

Childhood denied

  • The problem can no longer be brushed under the carpet

Back in 1999 the members of the International Labour Organisation signed Convention 182 which concerns the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, a child being defined by any human being under the age of 18.

The Convention was ratified over time by various member countries, and by Pakistan in 2001. Tonga, the last one, ratified it on Tuesday 4 August 2020. It may seem like a long time, but no convention has ever been ratified so fully and so swiftly by all members.

Ratification expresses a state’s consent to be bound to a treaty. It grants states time to seek approval for the treaty at the domestic level, and to enact the necessary legislation so that the convention or treaty can come into force and be able to work.

The way to end this is via social education, and by eliminating poverty which is often the reason why these children are forced to work. But none of these measures will succeed unless the government is serious about the issue. Unless the government decides to enforce its laws, to not allow child labour, to not accept bribes or pressure from powerful officials to make exceptions in their case, unless the government clamps down heavily on all persons participating in this cruelty, the ‘make Pakistan great again’ aka its transformation into ‘Riasat e Madina’ will remain what it is, a joke

The United Nations provides for four basic principles regarding children (child being defined as any person under the age of 18). Pakistan has long been signatory to this:

  1. Non-discrimination: which means that every child has certain rights regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, language, ability, or any other status
  2. Devotion to the best interests of the child, which must be taken into account when making any decision or taking any action affecting children.
  3. To ensure that every child’s right to life, survival and development is made possible and secure.
  4. Respect for the views of the child which must be taken seriously and considered when arriving at decisions.

Convention 182 on the other hand seeks to improve a child’s life specifically by eliminating the worst forms of child labour such as ‘slavery, or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; child prostitution, illicit activities such as the production and trafficking of drugs and work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.’

“It means all children now have legal protection against the worst forms of child labour,” said Guy Ryder, the Director General of the ILO.

An AFP report however hgoes on to say that Mr. Ryder was under no illusions that ratification amounted to implementation.

And that is the probably the pivot around which the welfare of humankind revolves: implementation. Countries which are doing well socially are those that make attempts to implement policies as opposed to those that pay lip service to them.

The problem with the current government in the USA for example is the same, that having stated the aim to ‘make it great again,’ its policies are designed to lead it in the opposite direction, a case in point being its efforts to declare the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) unconstitutional. For now the Act stands. The current government tried to get rid of the Act which lowers health costs. Without it medical facilities in the USA can legally deny treatment to anyone who does not possess health insurance. And more than 27 million Americans are uninsured. That they are not denied emergency care is despite this government, not thanks to it, due to a bill passed in 1986.

To return to Convention 182 however, and the plight of children, what are the chances of its implementation in Pakistan?

According to information provided by the ILO, the Labour Organisation has carried out successful initiatives as per its child labour programme in various areas of Pakistan. These areas include industries where children are largely employed and which are particular dangerous for children, such as those that manufacture soccer balls, carpet weaving, the surgical tools industry and the glass bangles manufacturers, deep sea fishing, leather tanneries, domestic work, coalmines, rag-picking, auto-workshops, and brick kiln sectors. ILO has also responded to rehabilitate child labour in the earthquake-affected areas. In all these ILO interventions, thousands of child labourers, girls and boys, have been rehabilitated through the provision of non-formal education and related services.

Despite all these efforts and the efforts of individuals to improve the life of the Pakistan child “‘about 3.3 million of children in Pakistan are trapped in child labour, depriving them of their childhood, health, education, condemning them to a life of poverty and want” (UNICEF).

There appears to be no effort whatsoever on the part of any of the governments of Pakistan, certainly not the current one, to make a difference to the lives of these children.

Convention 182 depends on the laws of each ratifying nation for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, on the worker’s organisations in each country and plans of action and necessary measures to implement such plans.

In Pakistan it is illegal to employ a child under the age of 15. Yet the practice is so common as to be ubiquitous. Promises have been made to fix this but as yet nothing has been done. There has been the case just last month of seven-year-old Zahra who was employed as a house maid in Rawalpindi. Zahra was tortured by her employers, and was eventually beaten so that she died in hospital of her injuries.

Children in this country are working under bondage, very much so, they are being used for prostitution and all the forms of ‘worst labour’ listed under Convention 182.

The way to end this is via social education, and by eliminating poverty which is often the reason why these children are forced to work. But none of these measures will succeed unless the government is serious about the issue. Unless the government decides to enforce its laws, to not allow child labour, to not accept bribes or pressure from powerful officials to make exceptions in their case, unless the government clamps down heavily on all persons participating in this cruelty, the ‘make Pakistan great again’ aka its transformation into ‘Riasat e Madina’ will remain what it is, a joke.

We need laws to be enforced or they might as well not exist.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/



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