Child Labor- a disease. Cure?

Childhood — the era to be spent with happiness, aspirations, dreams and ambitions. While some of us get to do all of that, many lives are forced to skip that part and face the brutalities of adulthood. The beings that shall be pampered with affection of family are rather left amidst strangers. The tiny hands which shall hold cricket bat are compelled to lift heavy tools under scorching heat. These neglected children of society who start their struggle at very early age and have to face harsh realities of life and tolerate rudeness, disrespect and atrocities to earn few mere bucks are referred as child labor.

Now it’s very important to understand what exactly child labor is. All work done by children under the age of 18 cannot be classified as child-labor. There is a fine difference between ‘child work’ and ‘child labor’. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) and UNICEF if work is not affecting the health and personal development as well as the schooling of children, then this type of work cannot be taken negatively and does not fall in the category of child labor, e.g. assisting in family business or working during school holidays or after school hours. These activities are not “child labor”, rather these can be termed as ‘child work’. Child work is not only important for the personal development of children but it also provides them with necessary skills to be useful and productive members of a society.

According to ILO, Child Labor is defined as work that has the potential to deprive children of their childhood, their dignity and is also harmful for their physical, moral and mental development and it interferes with their education. So, the question arises as to how should we differentiate between child labor and child work? This, according to ILO, depends upon age of the child, type and hours of work performed, working conditions as well as the development stage of individual countries.

High rate of illiteracy, exponential increase in population and poverty are few of the core reasons contributing to the rise of child labor in our society. A sizeable chunk of population in Pakistan lives below poverty line. When the elders fail to earn bread, these feeble hands work hard to feed the family. These children grow up being forgotten the pleasures of their childhood.

While some people are still of the opinion that child labor is justifiable on the grounds that it enables the household to run, I strictly disagree. To me, child labor is a malady of modern society. According to a national survey, nearly 3.3 million children under the age of 14 are labored in Pakistan. This whopping number shows the intensity of this social issue in our country.

I sternly believe that provision of basic necessities is the responsibility of Pakistani government. No child shall be bereft of basic rights such as education. While child labor may slightly better the financial position of a household on a temporary base, it fails to provide any long lasting solution to poverty and its vice. In fact, I believe that child labor results in higher rate of illiteracy which in turn leads to fewer opportunities for a better job or bright future. This is how the vicious wheel of poverty churns for eternity.

While financial challenges posed by child labor are widely talked about, we often tend to neglect the psychological hazards it carries with itself. When a child grows with harshness and maltreatment, he tends to transmit the same negativity as an adult. Studies have shown that children bonded with labor at early age are more prone to drug addiction and aggression. Also, they are more likely to break law at later age. Therefore, in my opinion, child labor not only affects financial stability of a person, but it hinders his proper development making him greatly susceptible of all moral vices.

However, our job is not done with raising the question over this disease. Our role is to find the cure. The western world realized this growing issue long time back. In various countries, measures varying from mandatory and free education for working labors, proper and healthy working environments, to parliamentary acts declaring it illegal have been taken. It’s time that governments in our country who have turned a deaf ear to this issue up till now, take concrete steps to put an end to unjustified and bonded child labor not only in urban areas but also in rural population where this issue exists at its worst. Furthermore, relying solely on Pakistani government for the eradication of the problem is not a rational answer to the question, civil society has a lot more power now a days and we can definitely pool-in our contribution in order to minimize this issue to the best of our capabilities.

So what can be done actually? First of all, the least we can do is if we cannot eradicate this issue let’s just not promote it as well. Make sure you are not exploiting any child in the name of child work. Make sure your maid’s children are enrolled in a school and are getting proper education rather than working with their moms full-time. Next time think twice before taking your car to the mechanic who mistreats his child-mechanic. Do not stop for a cup of tea at your local tea café if the owner exploits the young waiter. And if you know of a child who is involved in child-work in order to help his family make you support him/her, make sure you are tipping the child-waiter who works part-time at a local café. This might be the first step to remove child labor and cherish the dream of a Parha Likha Pakistan.