Child labour: A continuing menace | BY Khadija Naveed


Child labour: A continuing menace

CHILD labour in Pakistan has been prevalent in all sectors of the economy although it primarily exists in informal sector of employment and home based industry .child labour, is defined as the employment of children to work, causing them mental, physical, moral and social harm. In a country where half of the population lives below the poverty line, child labour is deeply entrenched and a pressing phenomenon. Pakistan‘s high population growth of around 1.6 per cent poses multiple challenges .The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that in 1990s. 11 million children were working in the country, half of whom were under age 10. The median age for a child entering the work force was seven or eight in 1994. It was estimated that children constituted one quarter of country’s work force. Hence child labour is the under explored but persistent problem in Pakistan which is constitutionally declared a crime. According to article 11 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan, paid labour performed by children under the age of 14 is categorized as child labour.

The International-Labour Organization (ILO) defines the child labour in terms of consequences for the children. Accordingly it impacts the educational, intellectual, moral psychological and emotional developments of a child, hence it is a heinous crime. ILO suggests that poverty is the greatest single cause relating to child labour. Pakistan has a per capita income of approximately $ 1900. A middle class family earns $ 6 a day. The average Pakistani has to feed 10 people .Approximately. Half of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, hence children are pushed into labour, to complement the meagre house income. Survey conducted by UNICEF in 2003, estimated that 8 million Children under the age of 14 were engaged as labours. Most of them I’m brick kilim factories, agriculture, small industries , carpet weaving and domestic services.

Therefore Child labour in Pakistan , In addition to being a politico economic issue , is a human rights issue ,as it deprives the child of liberty, freedom of expression and speech and stifles his fundamental rights. Hence Article 11 of the constitution of Pakistan categorically. States that child labour is to be prohibited in the country, as it also negates Article 25 A) of the constitution which makes it Incumbent on the state to provide free compulsory primary education to the children. Moreover, such large scale prevalence of child labour in Pakistan is in violation of various International treatise signed by Pakistan, mainly United Nations Declaration on Human Rights to which liberty is indispensable for the proper growth of children. The Convention on Rights of Children(1989)which provides for freedom of speech and expression and ILO convention concerning minimum age of employment .

The most important social factors which have intensified the child labour is over population and poverty .According to latest population census of 2017, Pakistan’s population stands at210 million and is likely to reach350 million by 2030. The rise of child labour in Pakistan has been the by-product of income inequality which presses the parents to push the child to work to complement their income. Child labour as a social and moral is sue is by product of factors like poverty, antiquated social customs, unemployment lack of education and other factors.

The most distressing aspect of child labour in Pakistan is their physical and emotional abuse. Especially the girl child labour mostly employed as maids become victims of sexual abuse and torture Hence the s outage of eliminating child labour needs to be addressed at all levels . Nevertheless, there have been some major mile stones which provided for the elimination of child labour in the country. Which are as under: The Convention of the Rights of Children (1989) is so far the most comprehensive international treaties dealing with rights of children. It’s a blueprint for fundamental rights of children. It consists of 54 articles, each dealing with specific rights of children .Article 32 specifically provides that all states must take steps to protect the child from Exploitation and child labour. Pakistan ratified the Convention in 1990. It may be highlighted that there are a number of laws containing provisions prohibiting child labour or regulating working conditions of the adolescent workers. Most important laws are :

The Employment of Children Act (1991). According to this Ayct child labour in Pakistan is prohibited and also underlines penalty’s to protect child labour. It also provides for a national committee for rights of children. The Islamabad territory Child Protection Act (2018), provides for the setting of any institution where vulnerable children could be placed. Resultantly, child protection Institute has been set up in the capital. Legislation at Provincial level Cognizant of the reality that child labour has been on the rise in the country and to address this phenomenon. Punjab took the lead and passed Punjab prohibition of child labour Act and Punjab compulsory Education Act , (1994 )‘Punjab’Destitute and neglect children Act(2004)

Like wise Sind and KPK also enacted child protection Acts in 2011 and 2020. In this essential Area the role of International agencies, ie Save the Children, UNICEF b, ILO , UNIDO and other national NGO’ s needs special mention. Nevertheless, It is evident from above that the existing laws in the country have not kept pace with changing dynamics in the society. It was only in 1973 Constitution when the prohibition of child labour was provided in Pakistan. It resulted in vacuum in the society which was exploited by people who resorted to child labour.

Consequences of Child labour in Pakistan.

1) The foremost impact of child labour is to deprive a child from acquiring education. No wonder there are 23 million out of school children (Economic Survey Report). The huge school dropouts, beside other factors can be attributed to the pernicious issue of child labour in the country.

2) The issue of child labour also impacts human capital of the children and their proper development. They are deprived of the development of various skills to keep pace with modern trends in the economy.

3. This issue can result in the persistence of class and income disparities in the country, as they are deprived of education which results in further stagnation and exacerbates the income and class inequalities.


Although child labour is a constitutionally declared crime in Pakistan, yet one cannot see much progress in eliminating its scourge because of the inaction of the state institutions and exploitative private sector. This could be addressed by strengthening democracy and empowering the parliament to make and Implement robust anti child labour laws in the country through administrative structures and institutions of law. The civil society and the NGO’’s already at the forefront need to be geared up and supported. The problem in Pakistan has not been lack of laws or policies but implementation and dereliction. Hence the legal regimes need to be more effective by improving the system of punishment, the administrative structure needs to be made more vigilant to implement the laws in entirety. Moreover the rule of law must be ensured which can be instrumental for elimination of child labour in the country.

In this regard a holistic, comprehensive and inclusive approach needs to be adopted which should encompass both preventive and corrective strategies. This would require long term strategies relating to change in mindset and behavioral change Awareness campaigns, counseling and advocacy workshop need to be geared towards parents in batches. Labour department working with industry should work with missionary zeal towards eventual elimination of child labour.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.