Society downplays seriousness of domestic child labour

KARACHI: Social rights activists and lawmakers highlighted on Saturday the plight of children subjected to labour and called for improved legislation on the matter, as well as budget allocations to curb the menace.

Addressing an online session titled ‘Debate on Elimination of All Forms of Child Labour’, organised by the Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Riaz Fatyana said, “We, as a society, downplay the seriousness of child domestic labour. People see no harm in a seven-year-old girl babysitting a three-year-old child or looking after pets.”

The MNA emphasised the need to realise that children should not be made to work as domestic workers, pointing out that even if they survived the physical or sexual violence many of them face, the emotional stress would scar them for life.

“At this age, the only thing[s] a child should have are books and toys,” he remarked.

Child rights activist Kashif Mirza, while saying that the actual number of child labourers in Pakistan was unknown, mentioned a survey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics and the National Child Labour, according to which approximately 19 million children below 14 years of age were working as labourers in Pakistan.

Mirza lamented that these children were made to work in unregulated conditions, without being provided proper food, wages and rest. Besides, they were also subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse, he added.

Sajjad Cheema of SPARC too raised concerns over the alarming rate of emerging cases of abuse against domestic child workers and called for placing a ban on hiring children as domestic help.

“We [frequently] get to hear about new cases of brutal torture and murders of helpless and innocent child workers, mainly young girls,” he remarked.

He noted that while Pakistan acknowledged the prevalence of forced labour, slavery and trafficking on paper, few practical steps were taken to put an end to the menace of domestic child labour.

Speaking along similar lines, Iqbal Detho of the National Human Rights Commission called for immediate governmental action for eliminating all forms of child labour. He suggested the inclusion of domestic child labour in the list of hazardous occupations under the Employment of Children Act, 1991, as well as the enactment of laws at the provincial and federal level for prohibiting child labour.

Moreover, he said, adult labourers too needed to be covered under support schemes introduced by the government so that they were prevented from sending their children to work.