Forced child labour continues unabated

More than 24,000 children are involved in forced labor.

LAHORE: As the country endeavors to battle endemic illiteracy and poverty, the institutionalized culture of child labor prevents indigent minors from escaping a fate quite similar to their forefathers.

Despite the fact that the Lahore High Court (LHC) has directed the Child Protection Bureau (CPB) and local police to strictly implement the law banning forced labor of underage children at factories, workshops and residences, the crime continues to plague minors, who apart from waiving their right to education are also subjected to sexual and physical abuse at their workplaces, leading child right’s activists to argue that a systemic social ill like child labor necessitates a comprehensive solution which requires all law implementing departments to join hands against the perpetuation of the vice.

“Since forced child labor has its roots in economic uncertainty, the declaration of a single law cannot end the problem. Until or unless all our law enforcing departments like the Labor Department, CPB and Social Security and Prosecution pledge to mutually coordinate against the social ill, it will continue to ruin the futures of countless destitute minors,” claimed Iftikhar Mubarak, Executive Director at a non-governmental organization (NGO) working on child protection.

According to data from the Punjab Labor Department obtained by The Express Tribune, 181,942 inspection visits were made to factories, brick kilns and other workplaces from 2017 to 2021, which identified more than 24,000 children involved in forced labor, out of which 7,207 were reported to the authorities and 3,163 of their employers were penalized.

Nadeem Ashraf, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, while talking to The Express Tribune, shared his conviction that economic compulsions cannot be used to justify involving one’s child in forced labor.

“No one, including parents, has the right to spoil a child’s life. Our human rights enforcing departments must coordinate against the crime and protect the victims. We have written a letter to the Punjab government to request the formation of child protection and child rights committees at the provincial and district levels with representatives of all concerned departments, which would help eliminate the vice,” added Ashraf.

On the contrary, CPB officials are of the opinion that the custom of child labor cannot be abolished altogether since it is deeply ingrained in the mindsets of impoverished households. “However, if a case does come up of forced child labor, where a minor is being exploited or tortured, we can take the child into our custody and arrest the parents in addition to imposing a fine on them,” confirmed the source from CPB.

Speaking to The Express Tribune on the matter, the Director of the Punjab Labor Department, Dawood Abdullah revealed that a modern mechanism had been adopted to combat forced child labor in the province. “Now, our investigation system has become digitalized, and the inspector has to visit the workplace and upload on-site photographs and other details onto the portal. Apart from implementing the law we are also seeking to spread awareness about it among the masses,” asserted Abdullah.

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