Authorities fail to implement laws protecting children in Rawalpindi district
Whether it is in mechanic shops or in a domestic setting, a blatant violation of child protection laws is seen when minors are employed for work – a practice which, like most parts of Punjab, is also prevalent in the hustle and bustle of Rawalpindi.
The provincial government and district administration seemed to have turned a blind eye towards the employment of children despite the Punjab Domestic Workers Act of 2019 placing a complete ban on the employment of minors up to 15 years of age.
The act further empowers assistant directors of the provincial labour department to register FIRs against those who violate the law. “Unfortunately our government has failed to fulfil its responsibility of caring for our children,” remarked Raza Ahmed Shah, a social worker associated with a renowned welfare organisation. Shah opined that it was the state’s failure that children who should be in school are instead being exploited because of their financial institutions.
“The future of our next generation is compromised when the government does not curb child labor.” Shah’s assessment holds weight, as 10-year-old Hafiz Ahmed, who works at a spare parts factory, when asked as to why he does not go to school, replied: “my father just passed away so I have to work. If we have nothing to eat at home then what use is an education?” There are many others who share the 10-year-old’s fate but Implementation of the law as Shah envisions it might also not be possible due to staff shortages in the provincial labour department.
The Express Tribune learnt that there are a total of 50 assistant directors in the department for all of Punjab out of which only two have been assigned to Rawalpindi, a city of more than two million people. Dr Abdul Shakoor, Labour Officer, Rawalpindi, on the other hand believes that it is the weak laws which encourage child labour.
“The eradication of the practice is only possible if laws are stricter and punishments are increased,” said Shakoor, adding that the government should also go after the parents who force their children into such jobs to gain an income. One such child is seven-year-old Zeeshan Ahmad, who works in a motorcycle workshop in the city and whilst talking to The Express Tribune, hesitantly informed that he had been forced to work by his parents.
“My father is sick so he took me out of school and sent me to work here instead,” said the distraught young child. Saeed Yousaf Khan, a lawyer who practices at the Supreme Court, when asked about the plight of children like Hafiz and Zeeshan and whether they had any recourse, said that the existing child protection legislation if implemented properly could help them.
“There is a punishment of three years and a fine of Rs 50,000 for those who employ such children.”
However, since the government is not interested in pursuing such violators they break the law with impunity, as per Khan. “If it is not going to implement laws, the government should at least consider giving financial support to the children who are being forced to run a home at the expense of their schooling,” Khan suggested while talking to The Express Tribune.