Global March Against Child Labour: From Exploitation to Education
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Child Labourers Killed in Lahore as Illegal Factory Caves Down after an Explosion

Monday was unfortunate for the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore where a factory illegally making veterinary medicines collapsed killing at least 10 women and three children. The blast at the three-storey building is believed to have been caused by a gas leak. As the rescue work at the site continues at war footage, it is feared that more women and children may still be trapped under the debris of the collapsed structure.
Local trade union leader Farooq Tariq told the BBC that many of the workers at the factory in Lahore were children. Officials said that the 25-year-old factory, in a residential area of the city, had not been properly registered and was operating illegally. Residents claim that children below the legal working age of 14 (as stipulated in the Employment of Children Act 1991) were employed there to pack medicines. The aforesaid facts clearly bring to the fore the hazardous conditions at work that the children are exposed to.
A total of 60 people, including women and under-aged children who worked in the factory, were inside the premises when it collapsed, Rizwan Naseer, head of the state-run rescue service in Punjab province said and this was further corroborated by the Associated Press. The explosion occurred shortly after the opening hours and correspondents say that people may have still been arriving in the premises. The building caved in soon after several gas cylinders stacked inside it exploded, the city's deputy commissioner, Ahad Cheema said.


Reuters reports that Pakistan’s unpopular government is perceived as too corrupt and ineffective to care for its citizens, even the young and helpless. As a result of which Child Labour is rampant amidst abject poverty throughout the country. Rising food and fuel prices and a struggling economy have forced many families to send their children to search for work instead of to the classroom. Frequent political crises in Pakistan means the South Asian nation's leaders are unlikely to end child labour or a host of other problems ranging from Taliban insurgency to power cuts, any time soon.


Reuters further quotes Hussain Naqi, the national co-ordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan saying that the problem is that the whole industry has moved into private homes, which has made it a bit difficult to monitor if child labour is being used.


Mr. Hussain Naqi further said that this is not just an issue in Sialkot, but child labour is endemic all across Pakistan in very dangerous sectors like glass bangle manufacturing, cleaning of oil tankers, poultry farms, motor workshops, brick kilns and small hotels.


On Monday, 06th February 2012, the collapse of a three-storey factory in the city of Lahore after a gas explosion distinctly highlights the dangers faced by child labourers.


It is shambolic that Pakistan spends less than 2 percent of its gross domestic product on education, which translates into a lack of skills amongst the younger population, pushing them onto the street in search of work. By comparison just over 17 percent of 2011-12 state spending went to defence, though some experts put the figure at 26 percent.


Shahnaz Wazir Ali, social sector special assistant to the prime minister categorically says that "The problem is definitely there and we are not in a state of denial”. He further said that about 45 percent of Pakistan's population of almost 180 million is below the age of 22 but Pakistan's leaders are often too consumed by internal battles or tension with the military, to address child welfare.


In recent months, Pakistan has been grappling with rumours of a possible military coup and the ongoing tussle between the Supreme Court and the Government in preoccupying the leadership. With little government protection, children keep falling into the same vicious circle of exploitation.


Reuters quotes Salma Jafar, executive director at Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group that "It is all very damaging for a child's psychology, once you are abused, you grow up with that abuse." With no support flowing in from the Government, the population and the children are feeling absolutely helpless.
The International Monetary Fund on Monday has cautioned Pakistan that it needs to take immediate measures to stabilise growing budget pressures and to raise interest rates to contain rising inflation. Economic pressures are forcing young Pakistani teenagers to leave home in search of work, completely jeopardizing their educational prospects.


According to UNICEF up to 10 million children are estimated to be working in Pakistan.  The latest government figures, showing three million child labourers, date back to 1996, underscoring the apathy of the Government and the scant attention that it has paid to documenting the problem, which is likely to get worse given the rate at which the population is growing.


The plight of child labourers in Pakistan came under international scrutiny when it was discovered that children were hand-stitching soccer balls in the town of Sialkot. Foreign sports equipment companies are wary of any kind of association with cases related to child exploitation. One company stopped orders in 2006 from a Pakistan-based supplier of hand-stitched soccer balls, saying the factory had failed to correct labour compliance violations. But such trade sanctions do not make the conditions of child labourers or their families any better.


Terming Monday’s incidence of the illegal factory caving down killing several child labourers as absolutely shocking, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour said that this incident is yet another proof of heinous crime of child labour committed against children unabated in Pakistan.  Despite appropriate laws and commitments for International Conventions that Pakistan ratified long ago, the unscrupulous nexus between politicians, military and industry have rendered the cause of child labour completely unaddressed. Mr. Satyarthi urged the Government of Pakistan to take urgent action and ensure that justice is expeditiously meted out to the aggrieved families by prosecuting and convicting the errant employers. He further said that the compensation to the families of the deceased must also be disbursed by the Government at the soonest. Mr. Satyarthi finally said that the country must show its political will to safeguard the rights of all children with a sense of utmost urgency.

 

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References:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16901719

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/07/pakistan-childlabour-idUSL4E8D63H620120207

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All photographs courtsey of U. Roberto Romano © ROMANO unless otherwise mentioned

The Global March Against Child Labour is a movement to mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of all children, especially the right to receive a free, meaningful education and to be free from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be harmful to the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.