Op-Ed

NO to Child Labour, YES to Quality Education

Feature | 12 June 2015
By Belinda Chanda, Program Analyst, ILO Country Office, Islamabad

As Pakistan commemorates this year’s World Day Against Child Labour, the stakes are higher than ever before. This is simply because the world will experience a radical shift in its approach to development post 2015 where employment will emerge as a pathway for poverty reduction and safeguards to ensure that employment creation is decent need to be taken.

To begin with, the context of child labour in Pakistan should be preceded by a definition. Child Labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling. In its worst forms, child labour involves the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, forced or compulsory labour; and work that is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The most recent ILO estimates based on the national Labour Force Survey 2010-11 and synthesised under the latest publication on Understanding Children’s Work (UCW) in South Asia-a joint collaboration of ILO, UNICEF and the World Bank, estimates that 5.7 million 10-17 year olds, representing almost 20 per cent of all children in the age group, are in employment, with more than two-thirds in the agricultural sector in Pakistan. A similar proportion are in unpaid family work. Of the 15-17 year age group, 13.5 per cent are in hazardous work, which is considered a lower-bound estimate.

Official data estimates show 74 per cent of children (10-14 years) to be exclusively in school but dropout rates are high and closer inspection reveals large gender and rural/urban disparities . This is a case for concern and concerted actions are required-not least, to establish the exact magnitude of child labour in Pakistan as a result of their non-engagement in the school system.

The good news is that, Article 11 (3) of the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment. This is a testament of political will and the provisions of the constitution need to be exercised in order to safeguard the welfare of children exposed to the phenomenon of child labour.

In addition, Pakistan has ratified ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age of Work, Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour and Conventions on Forced Labour and Compulsory Labour, C29 and 105 respectively as well as the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC). These international commitments need to be mainstreamed into national law in order to ensure their application, enforced through various mechanisms and reported on consistently and regularly. The process of devolution presents a unique opportunity for various legislative processes.

While gaps remain in the aspiration to eliminate child labour- particularly in its worst forms, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has been working consistently to address the issue. More specifically, GoP and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) have been working together since 1994 when an MoU was signed between the two parties on a national program on child labour. Efforts to eradicate child labour in sectors such as carpet and weaving, surgical instruments and soccer balls were realised and one notable outcome of this collaboration was the establishment of the Independent Monitoring Association for Child Labour (IMAC), which saw the elimination of child labour in the country’s soccer ball value chain.

Taking lead from history, changes in the 70s and ’80s within the soccer ball industry and in the general business environment led to a growth of informal systems of production, through which companies began to outsource soccer ball manufacturing to contractors. These contractors redistributed football production to outside workers, mainly women operating from home. This led to a breakdown in the monitoring and control of working conditions, and more and more children became involved in stitching and related activities as a way to augment family income. Parallel to this, consumer and businesses attention to labour conditions in global supply chains increased steadily. When media investigations of soccer ball manufacturing in Sialkot around the time of the 1994 Soccer World Cup and the 1996 European Football Championships found children working in the industry, the entire sporting goods sector in Sialkot was under threat . The outcome was that Buyers suspended their contracts and orders in Pakistan, dipping export earnings and subsequently the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

With careful monitoring and the gradual elimination of child labour in the soccer value chain the country’s soccer re-emerged on the market by supplying the famed “Brazuca” football for the World Cup held in Brazil that saw Germany carry day! This is a demonstration of how investing in the application of International Labour Standards (ILS), can lead to competiveness in global supply chains by securing international export markets that benefit the country at large.

Today, the Government of Pakistan is committed to eliminating child labour by investing its own resources to interventions such as the seven year Integrated Project on Child and Bonded Labour in Punjab targeting all 36 districts to a tune of US$50 million and the Government of Baluchistan’s investment of US$300,000 to carry out similar interventions. These efforts are commendable and will be supported by the United Nations System in Pakistan through the provision of technical assistance.

In line with the theme of this year’s World Day against Child Labour (WDACL) the United Nations System in Pakistan calls for:

Free, compulsory and quality education for all children at least to the minimum age for admission to employment and action to reach those presently in child labour;
• New efforts to ensure that national policies on child labour and education are consistent and effective;
• Improve the education legal framework to create an enabling environment for free and compulsory education
• Develop and implement policies that ensure access to quality education and investment in the teaching profession.
• In collaboration with donor agencies, improve the capacity to gather and analyse statistics on the incidence of child labour, particularly in its worst forms
• Strengthened institutional capacity to formulate and implement child labour strategies and action plans to combat child labour
• Enhanced knowledge base and networks on child labour and education by ensuring the involvement of communities.


These are just a few policy actions that could facilitate the elimination of child labour, particularly in its worst forms.


1. Measuring Children’s Work in South Asia: perspectives from national household surveys. ILO/Khan & Scott. 2015

2. The Pakistan Labour Force Survey instruments do not allow the identification of hazardous occupations according to the methodology applied by the ILO for the scope of its global and regional estimates. It also does not include data for below 10 year olds.

3. http://www.pk.undp.org/content/pakistan/en/home/mdgoverview/overview/mdg2/

4. See more at: http://hrbaportal.org/archives/resources/prevention-and-elimination-of-child-labour-in-global-supply-chains-the-soccer-ball-industry-in-pakistan-csr-case study#sthash.qNJ1jZR7.dpuf