Stakeholders reaffirm commitment to eradicate child labour in Pakistan

The ILO Office for Pakistan convened national consultative workshop in Islamabad to present Asia Regional Child Labour (ARC) Project to stakeholders, solicit inputs for validating/amending the priority sectors for in-depth research and interventions and assessing stakeholders’ needs to address child labour in the priority sectors. The ARC project is a four year project funded by United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Press release | Islamabad, Pakistan | 01 April 2021
ISLAMABAD (ILO News): The ILO Country Office for Pakistan convened a national stakeholders’ consultation under its Asia Regional Child Labour (ARC) Project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The consultation drew the participation of 40 stakeholders representing the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, Provincial Departments of Labour and Human Resource Development, Federal and Provincial Bureaus of Statistics, Division of Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety, Social Welfare Department Punjab, Punjab Social Protection Authority, Ministry of Human Rights, National Vocational Technical Training Commission, Workers representatives, civil society, UN agencies, development partners and media.

Participants at the consultative workshop prioritized key sectors for research and interventions, took stock of existing programmes, and identified garbage/rag picking, auto mechanic /repairing, manufacturing of bricks, begging, domestic work, and agriculture as priority sectors for eliminating child labour.

Ms Sarnaila Sharif representative of the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (MOP&HRD) reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to eradicating child labour through the development and implementation of appropriate legislative, policy, and strategic frameworks. She commended the progress made by provincial governments in developing legislative frameworks for the prohibition of employment for children with the caveat that additional efforts were required for effective enforcement of legislation. Ms Sharif highlighted the on-going Child Labour Surveys as one of the critical steps in generating evidence-based policies and legislation to eradicate child labour.

Child labour deprives the children of their childhood, education, health and makes them vulnerable to exploitation, stated Mr Mazhar Siraj, Senior Social Development Advisor and Team Leader, Accountability, Inclusion and Rights at Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). He further stated that forced labour was a form of modern slavery, and nobody wants to see the children as slaves. Child labour is a multifaceted issue, which requires a variety of interconnected measures, including data synthesis and analysis, policy formulation and its implementation, as well as community-based actions. Mr Siraj cited FCDO funded the AWAZ -II project as an example that aims to bring changes in communities' attitudes to eradicate harmful practices against children.

In his remarks, Mr Chaudhry Muhammad Yaseen, General Secretary, Pakistan Workers Federation, said, inadequate implementation of relevant legislation, weak economic policies, low level of income, rapid increase in population and a large number of un-registered employers drive millions of children in child labour. He mentioned that agriculture was the largest sector, with a large number of child labourers without legal protection. In order to eradicate child labour, Mr Yaseen recommended the ARC project to intervene at the union council level, facilitate the registration of enterprises, provide skills training and advocate for increasing the minimum wage for workers, so that poor families were not compelled to involve their children in labour. He said PWF, through its regional offices in all provinces, would provide a platform to coordinate efforts with ILO at the grass root level.

Ms Ingrid Christensen, Country Director, ILO Pakistan, highlighted the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought about, including the possible increase of child labour as a means for survival. She further stated that parents might be tempted to engage their children in economic activities with the closure of schools and educational activities. Underscoring the need for accelerated efforts to end child labour, Ms Christensen highlighted that 2021 was declared the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour by United Nations. She urged the stakeholders to pledge to end child labour, share stories to inspire and scale up efforts to eliminate child labour by 2025.

Deliberating on child labourers' working conditions in the priority sectors, stakeholders noted that children involved in garbage/rag picking were exposed to hazardous materials and biological agents, including handling of medical waste for recycling. They also observed that domestic workers were vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual violence, longer working hours, and challenging working conditions. They reflected that children involved in brick making experience harsh working conditions as well as bonded labour. They added that the majority of child beggars came from rural to urban migrant families or trafficked and warped into physical disability to invite sympathies and charity. Stakeholders emphasized that the future Child Labour Survey and Labour Force Survey should consider including child begging as an economic activity. They also suggested selecting the districts for interventions based on HDI ranking.

Recommending the key actions for addressing child labour, the stakeholders emphasized the need for a holistic approach and integrated interventions by connecting families vulnerable to child labour with social protection programmes including BISP- Waseela Taleem Program, Pakistan Bait ul Mal Schools, EHSAAS, Social Welfare, Child Protection Bureaus, vocational training centers, legal and rehabilitation services among others. The stakeholders also underscored the significance of developing and operating a community-based child labour monitoring system by local public administration, trade unions, civil society, and media.

Stakeholders suggested the need to formalize and create apprenticeship and learning environments for children above the minimum age for working, particularly in the auto repair sector. They further added that regularizing the auto/mechanic workshops as technical training providers would incentivize the employers to deliver effective and improved workplace-based training and support adolescents learn and transit to decent work.

The consultation concluded with ILO’s vote of thanks to all stakeholders for their keen interest, active deliberations, and valuable inputs. The ILO encouraged the stakeholders to submit pledges for actions and hoped to receive continued support to prevent and eliminate the worst forms of child labour in Pakistan.