Child labour & tobacco cultivation in Pakistan | By Khalil Ahmed Dogar

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Child labour & tobacco cultivation in Pakistan

ACCORDING to 2021 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF child labour ie children below the age of 18 working across the world has risen to 160 million.

This population is at constant risk of direct and indirect mental, physical and social harms at present and future.

The latest possible statistics on child labour in Pakistan can be drawn from Pakistan Labour Force Survey (2017-18) according to which approximately 9.4 million children between the ages 10-19 are engaged in workforce.

However according to civil society estimates this number is over 13 million due to underreporting and the untapped domestic labour.

Majority of the child labour occurs in agricultural sector followed by the industrial sector. The proportion of child labour in Pakistan follows same pattern due to similar workforce dynamics.

Pakistan has made various international and national commitments to prevent and eradicate child labour.

Civil society, media and academia play their part in frequently reminding the State about these commitments.

However, often the ‘wasted potential’ is a key point often ignored while arguing on other technicalities.

This is based upon a simple fact that some forms of work, even if done in ideal environment, can’t be performed by children due to loss of education and health risks.

Majority of the children engaged in workforce in Pakistan are deprived of the opportunity to attend school or are forced to leave school prematurely; or are required to try to balance school attendance with overly long and heavy work.

For this very reason, International Labour Organization (ILO) extends the definition of child labour by including the work which prevents children from seeking education completely or partially.

According to estimates by UNICEF, Pakistan has the second highest number of out of school children in the world and this situation will become worse after the recent floods.

Harms to physical health are often downplayed by industries to ensure that they aren’t included in harsh or worst form of labour. The decision to list a profession as harsh must be made from a child lens instead of an adult.

For example, the children working in tobacco crops in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are at extreme risks such as exposure to extreme weather, inhaling toxic chemical pesticides, injuries from sharp tools and nicotine addiction.

The percentage of these harms is much higher in children. Therefore, the employers can’t be given an excuse that children are working with their family members and given adequate wages.

The claim of adequate wages is false anyways because the children are hired because they’re cheaper compared to adults.

Industries such as tobacco often downplay the extent of child labour in their sector by claiming that no child is employed in the manufacturing facilities.

In reality these industries encourage child labour as they are buyers of the raw material which is harvested by children.

It is prime responsibility of every industry to ensure that from the first step of raw material growth to the last step of product reaching to the customer, the product doesn’t cause any harm to children.

Unfortunately, tobacco is among those industries where children are harmed at all steps and so is the case in Pakistan as it is the 8th largest producer of tobacco.

Companies which boost to have state of the art research departments must invest in enough in monitoring of the raw material sites as well.

Strict action against such companies and implementation of the National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Child and Bonded Labour, developed in 2017 with consultation of ILOis the need of the hour to save present and future of Pakistani children.

—The writer is Programme Manager, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad.

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