LAHORE – The dilemma of the street children seems to have no ending as despite several existing laws, million of orphan children are still seen working not only in rural but also in urban areas of the country.
The lack of reliable and comparable statistics on child labour at national level renders it difficult to study the trend of child labour over the years; however, in the light of these surveys we can make an assessment as to what extent they are misused for the vested interests of some classes.
According to the Pakistan Labour Force Survey (2007-2008), there are over 21 million children between 10 to 14 years of age out of which 2.68 million are employed.
Beside, there are various estimates of the number of child labourer in the country. In 2003 UNICEF estimates there were about eight million child labourers and in 2005 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report estimated the number of child labourers in the country to be more than ten million.
In 1996, a nationwide survey found that there were 3.3 million child labourer in the country. This was the first comprehensive survey of child labour in the country and mainly quoted even to this day although it had lost much of its relevance considering numerous challenges the country had faced during last fifteen years.
According to this survey, child labour is rampant in Pakistan in all sectors of the economy but mostly in the informal sector of employment and the home-based industry. The major sectors absorbing child labour in the country are manufacturing transport, trade, agriculture, construction, and services. Child labour in the manufacturing sector is found in sports industry, surgical goods industry, cottage industry, chemical industry, power looms, footwear industry, bidi making fisheries, carpet weaving, engineering, iron shops, furniture and fixtures.
In the construction sector, child labour is engaged in stone quarrying, building and road construction, steel shops and the brick kiln industry. In the transport sector, child labour is found in auto workshops, service stations, and in garages as helpers, porters, loaders, and cleaners. In the trade sector, children work as shop assistants and street vendor.
The agriculture sector absorbs child labour in fisheries, forestry, daily and poultry farming, and agricultural labour. In the services sector, children works as domestic servants, cobblers, watchmakers, electricians, mechanics, painters, tin packers, papers pickers, and trash pickers.
In the same way, child labour is common in hotels and restaurants, in laundry shops, barber shops, tailoring and embroidery shops.
Pakistan’s is essentially an agrarian economy, with most people depending on some form of agricultural activity for their livelihood.
Within this context, it is common to find children playing an important economic role within the family. In the rural areas, three fourth of child labourers are involved in agriculture, whereas in the urban areas, three fifth of the child labourers are engaged in production activities. Rural children are mostly engaged in the agricultural sector whereas in urban areas, most working children are engaged in the manufacturing sector. In both areas, the percentage of girls working in manufacturing and services is higher than that of boys. It indicates that girls are more likely to work in the manufacturing and services sectors a compared to boys. It is also observed that in the non-agricultural sectors, most of the working children (93 per cent) are engaged in informal activities.
According to the 1996 Child Labour Survey, 3.3 million out of 40 million children (in 5-14 years age group) are economically active on a full-time basis. Out of these, 73% (2.4 million) are boys and 27% (0.9 million), girls.
The working children come from large families in the low-income bracket. The average household size of working children was found to be eight members, which is higher than the national average. A higher proportion of economically active girls fall under households with nine plus members.
The survey indicates that the most cogent reasons. Given by parents/guardians for letting their child work are to assist in house enterprise (69%), and to supplement the household whereas the latter is more significant in urban families.
One-third of the working children are literate, which shows that mere completion of primary education is not an effective deterrent to child labour. School enrolment indicates that economically active children who are not enrolled in school (34.2%) are higher than economically active children combined with school (13.2 percent).
It shows that enrolment is negatively correlated with the involvement of children in economic activity. Education attainment is low because of limited opportunities resulting from inaccessibility of schools, inability of parents to afford schooling costs, irrelevance of school curriculum to real needs, and restriction of girls mobility n certain pars of the country.