IT is deeply unfortunate that the state continues to not just ignore but further jeopardise the future of its youth, and by extension its own, through its persistent apathy towards children. Its inaction is particularly to be condemned in the matter of children employed in hazardous occupations including those made to serve as bonded labour. According to a survey conducted by the Hari Welfare Association, out of the 1.7m people engaged in bonded labour in Sindh, nearly 700,000 are children, mostly in the farm sector. The figure may appear shocking and, indeed, it would be considered so by any civilised nation. As per some estimates, Pakistan has the third-highest number of bonded labourers globally after Mauritania and Haiti. However, in the context of child labour in the country, perhaps this reprehensible fact is not very surprising.
Bonded labour is a deep-rooted practice in feudalism, and one that the state does not care to counter. In fact, child labour is deeply entrenched in practically all occupations. Often it is invisible for instance, around 12m children work as domestic labour across the country, be it in the house of a government official, a businessman or a salaried person. Many have been maltreated by their employers, sometimes to the point of death, but unless civil society raises its voice, the cases usually go unreported.
The sight of children working on the streets, in restaurants and in auto repair shops, in the fisheries, etc, is more evident, especially in cities like Karachi. This is so despite the fact that there are laws to curb this despicable practice. As poverty in the country grows, it is likely that more families will send their children to work instead of schoolwhere their numbers are already abysmal.
Unfortunately, Pakistan`s children have never been on the priority list of governments; there may be laws and constitutional pledges regarding their welfare, but it is unlikely that the authorities will ever see children as the future of the country.