From Pakistan

A dream comes true in a motorbike repair shop

Changing perceptions is sometimes the biggest challenge when it comes to fighting child labour. But dialogue and cooperation is always a good start.

Feature | 15 October 2013
ISLAMABAD (ILO News) – Muhammad Baksh Maiser lives in a small village some 30 kilometres from Pannu Aqil, a rural town about 35 km away from the main city in Sukkur District, southeast Pakistan. He is a 50-year-old father of five and a strong believer that only through education will his children have decent lives and make a difference in a region where going to school is a luxury for many.

“I would have sent them to school, but there is no public school in the vicinity,” he says. Sending them to a private school is out of the question since the family income is 200 rupees (US$ 1.9) a day, hardly enough to survive.

Gada, his eldest son, is 17 and has never gone to school. He was eight when he started working full time in the fields to help his parents. Gada has spent many long and exhausting working days picking vegetables, making it impossible for him to receive a basic education. Like his siblings, he had no option but to contribute to the family income.

One day, an ILO team visited the area and decided to open a vocational training centre for young people like Gada. The ILO saw an opportunity in one of the most challenging problems of the community: its isolation. They realized that people mainly used motorbikes to travel the long distance to Pannu Aqil, yet there was not a single motorbike repair shop in the area.

With this in mind, the ILO started a six-month motorbike mechanics course that included extensive hands-on training for 24 boys. Gada was one of them.

Once the course was over, trainees received a starter tool-kit for motorbike repair. Gada saw the opportunity and opened a small shop right away.

“I feel really good now, I am independent and I can earn a good amount of money for my people,” he says. He makes around 400 rupees (3.8 US$) a day, doubling the previous total family income and offering his younger siblings the opportunity to spend less time in the fields and more at school.

He is even saving money to open a new shop, where he expects to hire and train other young people like him.

Cultural change

There are thousands of families like the Maisers in Pakistan. Very often, the biggest challenge is changing peoples’ perceptions towards child labour.
 
 Zahid Hussain Shah, representative of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation in Sukkur


Even workers involved in unions have to start thinking differently, says Zahid Hussain Shah, representative of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation in Sukkur.

“I myself used to think that children ought to support their parents, lending a hand while learning skills,” he says.

For Shah, the eye-opener was realizing how dangerous certain jobs can be for children, such as carrying and piling up bricks in factories, picking cotton and potatoes or hand-harvesting wheat and sugarcane.

“One fine day, an ILO team talked to me about the dangers associated with child labour,” he recalls. “I wonder why I had never been able to see this. It changed my mind and attitude towards child labour and I realized that our children were being deprived of their innocence very early in their lives”.

Since then, Shah has been trying to convince people to take their children out of work and into school. It was not an easy task. For many of these families – some with up to ten children – it meant losing an additional income, and few thought working could actually be dangerous for children. Others even saw it as valuable training for the future.

“They first turned a deaf ear on me. But with the help of the ILO, I displayed a number of posters in my office showing child labour hazards. Visual depiction was very effective and questions started to arise. Many of them came to realize that their children were being mistreated at work, getting paid just a few rupees. They saw that by investing in their education they would benefit financially in the future through better jobs”.

Slowly but gradually, parents started to change their perceptions towards child labour. Many of them enrolled their children in Non-Formal Education centres (NFEs), where they receive training on a range of skills, such as tailoring, motor-cycle repairing, motor-winding and to work as beauticians.

“I can see a change in my community,” Shah says. “I hope many of our children will be living better lives than us and will fulfil their dreams and those of their parents”.

A successful project

These social and cultural changes are the result of the Combating Abusive Child Labour (CACL-II) Project, which was funded by the European Union and operated from 2008 to 2013 under the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

The project improved the lives of up to 10,000 children and made strong and compelling changes in attitudes and practices towards child labour, winning over parents, employers and government officials. It shifted perceptions about education and work and attitudes on the employment of children in the informal economy.

The project represented a blend of approaches to fulfil three components: a holistic model of district-level activities, institutional and technical capacity-building and the creation of a comprehensive knowledge base. The approaches ranged from district policies to direct support to children and their families in two pilot districts, one in Punjab Province (Sahiwal District) and one in Sindh Province (Sukkur District).

“The project showed how a district-level model could work and how line departments, such as labour, education, health, agriculture and social welfare, could join hands with parents, employers, trade unions, media, NGOs and local communities to make a real change for children,” says Sujeewa Fonseka, Chief Technical Adviser of the Project.

The Punjab Labour Department recently has recently launched a US$ 2 million project to replicate the successful interventions in four more districts.

“Providing alternative opportunities for education and vocational training to working children, especially those who were withdrawn from the worst forms of labour, linking their families to social safety nets, credit providers and training to start their own small businesses or income-generating activities have created a greater impact among deprived people in the local communities,” says Francesco d’Ovidio, Director of the ILO Country office in Pakistan.