Poverty and parental neglect

No amount of poverty should excuse parent who forces child who should be in primary school to work.

Despite the number of harrowing reports on the abuse of child domestic workers we see every few months, the government continues to lag in protecting vulnerable children. This is despite all the fanfare that has surrounded the signing of all of the related legislation in recent years. Once the story gets old, the government — no matter who is in power — conveniently forgets to push for the enforcement of its own legislation. This is among the reasons why offenders seem to have no fear of otherwise strong laws such as the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, or why parents and employers alike refuse to abide by any regulations relating to minimum working age.

Just a few weeks ago, we heard of a nine-year-old girl in Faisalabad being tortured by her employers after being forced to work by her mother. Yet, the case was registered under the much less toothy Protection of Children Act, rather than the trafficking law, even though the girl’s age makes it undisputable that she was a victim of trafficking and child labour. While many pundits have been quick to suggest such ‘under-charging’ is illegal, all too often, lower-ranked police officers and officials are unaware of many new laws and even policing protocols. Whether this is due to poor refresher training and failure to educate by the government, or unprofessional behaviour of the police, it is the people that suffer. Lenient prosecution lets criminals return to society in little time, and rob their victims and the general public of security.

There are also major cultural obstacles which, despite being addressed by the trafficking law, still regularly rear their ugly heads. Chief among them is the lack of prosecution directed at parents who force their children to work. No amount of poverty should excuse a parent who forces a child who should be in primary school to work. Unfortunately, such ‘forgiveness’ by the authorities is commonplace here, as is the practice of returning victim children to the same parents that — for cash or kind — sold them off in the first place.

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