World Day Against Child Labour 2013

From classroom to college – A champion for child workers

When Farzana Hassan began teaching a handful of child labourers at an ILO project in Pakistan, she never imagined that, years later, she would have turned her classroom into a fully-fledged college for girls.

Feature | 12 June 2013
SIALKOT, PAKISTAN (ILO News) – Hundreds of young girls, clad in blue shirts and white shalwas – baggy trousers – teem through Bahgwal Awan girls’ college – an uncommon sight in rural Pakistan.

Fifteen years ago, this was a small centre set up by the International Labour Organization and a local NGO, Bunyad, providing non-formal education to children who had been working in Pakistan’s lucrative soccer ball industry.

At the time, the ILO estimated that 7,000 children had been working in the industry, hand-stitching soccer balls for export - a market that generated US$ 1 billion in retail sales annually.

So it partnered with the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and UNICEF, in a project to remove child labourers from the business and to provide them with educational and other opportunities.

Farzana was recruited as a teacher at one of the non-formal education (NFE) centres, which were set up in Sialkot under the scheme. She had 20 children in her class.

But when the project ended, as scheduled, after 18 months, Farzana, decided to keep the centre going.

“Today, with the support of the community, it is now a college with 650 students,” she explains. “It gives me great pleasure to see that girls from my community can now have their dreams fulfilled. Girls who have graduated from here have managed to carve out their own career and destiny, instead of stitching soccer balls.

“We also offer school education which has helped rehabilitate many child labourers, particularly girls.”

The ILO, jointly with the Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP) and Sialkot Chamber of Commerce (SCCI), presented Farzana with an award in recognition of her services to the community, at a ceremony in Sialkot on June 11, to mark the World Day against Child Labour.
“She is not only a role model for her community but also for women in other places, demonstrating that individual commitments can bring positive changes to the community and address complex issues like child labour,” says Francesco d’Ovidio, director of the ILO’s country office.

“This is one example of how an ILO project to address child labour in the soccer ball industry turns into sustainable results. This success could be replicated in other areas and sectors, such as child domestic workers, who should be taken out of work and placed into schools,” he adds.

Shekih Abdul Majid, President of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industries, also praised Farzana for her efforts. He thanked the ILO for helping to establish institutions like the Independent Monitoring Association of Child Labor (IMAC) and the Child Social Development Organization (CSDO) in Sialkot, which were set up as a follow-on to the Soccer Ball project.

The Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry passed a resolution to say “No Child Labour in Domestic Work”.

Many villagers in Sialkot have adopted and continued several non-formal education centers in the region.

“Community participation has helped to promote education as a right for every girl and boy in the area,” Farzana says. “I will ensure that education will continue to be offered to children and youth, particularly the girls.”

By M. Saifullah Chaudhry, Senior programme Officer, ILO Country Office for Pakistan