Street traffic increases every morning as people rush to go to earn their living leading to the constant honking of horns, the exchange of a few harsh words, and continuous nervous glances at watches or cell-phones, checking the time. While some are perfectly poised behind the steering wheels of glistening cars, others are swerving their motorbikes through tight spots in order to reach their small shops. Among them many children. Child labor is still plenty to be found in Pakistan.
Butchers are sharpening their tools, mechanics checking their supplies, and school teachers going over the notes for their first morning lesson. Cooks have begun chopping vegetables for omelets and businessmen have begun stirring up their next sales pitch.
Amidst this mass of people, there are a bunch of tiny hands, bright eyes, and wide yet timid grins of beings who are not completely aware of being the most unappreciated and overlooked laborers of Pakistan- the young children. Exposed to the harsh realities of life at a very early age, these young ones walk into the street armed with coloring books, flowers, or other small trinkets to sell while others make their way to roadside shops and the homes of the wealthy to earn meager wages. Barely able to understand the true essence of life and without an opportunity to create a better one for themselves, these children bear the brunt of supporting their families.
While these little ones deserve so much, they receive no applause, accolade, or recognition of achievement – in fact, they rarely get a day off, even on Labour Day.
Child Labor Instead of Books and Toys
Tiny hands hold tools or items for sale while frail voices call out to passersby or apologize to their employers for doing something wrong. At a young age when these hands should have had books or toys in them, they are now working fervently to make a living. In the 1990’s, 11 million children in Pakistan under the age of ten were in child labor and 2017 shows that 15 million children are currently earning for their families in some form of manual labor. Six million of these children are under the age of ten, exemplifying that there are still too many innocent souls being deprived of a decent life. Approximately 264,000 of these children are employed as domestic help while the others are made to slave away all day in small meaningless roles.
Why is Child Labor Still a Practice in Pakistan?
With a lack of family planning, most households in the lower-income strata of Pakistan have more mouths to feed than hands to earn. Poverty-stricken families have no other option but to send their little ones into child labor in order to survive, and those that do have an option see little incentive in sending their children to school. With unemployment rates running high and problems in government school systems, those educated seldom find appropriate jobs. This is leading to an education averse attitude amongst those who have to make the difficult choice between granting their child an education or sending the little one to earn greens.
Some children suffer because their elders are uneducated, and don’t understand the importance of going to school — hence, the vicious cycle continues. Others are pushed to bring home enough to repay a loan while still others are used to raise enough to quell the addictive pleasures of their guardians.
Earning their share in anguish and without a sense of accomplishment, these children give the lion’s share to their families. But, what’s in it for them, what do they get in return for being caught up in child labor?
What Do Children get in Return?
Child labor causes irredeemable harm which includes mental harm, physical harm, moral and social harm. Children are taunted, scolded, beaten, and exploited. While most of them earn a meager wage, at an average of PKR 30 per hour, they are little more than slaves. Pakistan’s courts are full of cases of abuse against children hired as domestic help – most act overbearingly atrocious and completely inhumane – while other instances go unreported and unresolved.
Some children receive the benefit of keeping a small allowance for themselves, while others cough up everything they have earned. Most suffer from malnutrition while few experience the excitement of buying their own ice cream.
They receive nothing in return – no savings, no education, no freedom, no happiness, no applause, and most of the time – no hope.
How Do we Give them Hope?
Many may think that the answer lies in banning child labor, and while that may keep these wretched souls from the streets, it certainly won’t keep their stomachs full or give them a better future. Initiatives to ensure children go to school have begun in Pakistan but are not in full swing. Providing better and more high-paying jobs for the guardians of children may help the situation, and providing better wages to children may at least give them a fair deal for their labor.
However, until we reform systems, burn traditions, and change mindsets, child labor will exist in Pakistan. Until then we can only give them hope with a smile of encouragement, a token of appreciation, a few nice words, and some applause.
Some applause for the children of Pakistan – the most unappreciated yet hard-working laborers of the country…