Iqbal Masih was born in 1983. He was a Pakistani child who became a symbol of abusive child labour in developing countries. His family sold him at the age of 4 to return the amount of six hundred rupees, borrowed by them. Iqbal had to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week with only a thirty-minute break. Despite working day and night, he was unable to pay the debt due to increasing interest. Iqbal escaped his slavery after he got to know that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had declared bonded slavery as illegal.
Later, he joined a school for the victims of bonded labour, Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) and completed a four-year education in just two years. He made speeches and initiated a movement against child labour throughout the world. In 1994, he got the Reebok Human Rights Award. Regrettably, he was murdered in Muridke when he was just 12 years old. Iqbal became an inspiration for the creation of the organizations like ‘Free the Children’ a Canada-based charity and Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation.
The unfortunate Iqbal is still alive in all the children who are victims of child labour in Pakistan. This is not just a story of a single child but of the millions of children who are living in a state of despondency with never ending labour hours. Pakistan is a developing country and it has a lot of social and political problems which demands an immediate response of the government and of its people. Amongst those, a major problem is of child labour. Child labour is a curse which not only destroys the present of a country but also endangers its future. The children of a country are known to be its future. If they are living in a pathetic condition then the future of that country is not safe and it will make the situations even worse.
The basic health facilities, the right to education, food and clothing of children must be the top priority of a government. A country where the access to educational facilities is limited and children must work to feed their families, does not expect a better future because child labour starts a vicious cycle of poverty which continues to operate. The sufferings and pains which these children have to bear every single day are beyond description. The government only should not be blamed for this, but the society which allows child labour to exist is also subject to criticism.
When people see the children suffering, they shut their eyes without taking any step towards its eradication. Why? Because they believe that these kids are born to suffer and it is their destiny. If they had felt their pain, they would have taken an action for bringing it to an end. As a society, we need to awaken our value system because the people in government are the same as we are. If as a society, we are so inconsiderate then we should not expect our governments to take any notice of this.
The heinous crime has spread like an epidemic across both rural and urban Pakistan. Moreover, in rural areas children mostly work in agriculture and in urban areas, their work is more of a diversified nature. They work in restaurants, hotels, rag-picking, auto-workshops and begging. The worst form of child labour is where they are exposed to the perilous work environment, forced to do the work heavier than their physical capabilities. They also have to bear physical, psychological and sexual abuse and they are forced to work for longer hours. Most of the time, they also have to work with dangerous tools and machinery which could cause physical injury and may result in their death.
One of the main causes of child labour in Pakistan is poverty. According to the report of Asian Development Bank, in Pakistan 29.5% of its population lives below the national poverty line. This poverty results in child labour and other evils in Pakistan. The children have to work to provide their families with meals three times or maybe two times a day. The 18th Amendment in the constitution of Pakistan delegates all child welfare and labor problems from the Federal Government to the four Provincial Governments. According to the United State, Bureau of International Labour Affairs, Pakistan made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in 2016. The government of Punjab took an initiative by passing the legislation ‘The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Ordinance 2016’. According to this ordinance, the children below the age of 15 are prohibited from doing any kind of labour and adolescents between the age of 15 and 18 are prevented from doing any hazardous work. This law will help to eliminate the child labour issues but the implementation of the law is the real challenge before the Punjab Government.
The solution of child labour could be the replacement of it with adult labour. On the one hand, this measure could reduce the rate of unemployment in the country and on the other hand the adult labour force will get better wages as compared to child labour. On an individual level and as a society as well, we can boycott those brands in which child labour is being employed. As most of our industries are based on child labour, so to save them from a heavy loss, a deadline can be given to replace child labour with adult labour. In addition to, the government must make it mandatory for the children attending schools and provide them with free education, books and uniforms.
Campaigns can be started to encourage and motivate illiterate families about the importance of education in a child’s life that it doesn’t only offer a better present but also ensures a bright future. If we all start taking small steps to improve the conditions of these deprived and unfortunate children, it will lead to a greater impact on their lives, inculcate a new soul in our society and will contribute towards a better Pakistan.