There are direct and indirect linkages between the demographical structure of Pakistan, its economic condition and the number of children employed. Child labour is the result of lack of social security, poverty, unemployment (or under-employment) and excess population. Unless strict measures are adopted, child labour cannot be eradicated. The government should strive to reform and minimise poverty, bring social security in unorganised sectors and curtail the excessive growth of population.
With our alarming population growth rate and an education system that can accommodate about a third of the country’s school-age children, the child labour pool is inexhaustible. Every year millions of children enter the labour force, where they compete with adults – at times with their own parents – for whatever work is available. As a result, a surplus of cheap child labour has reduced the already inadequate adult wage to the point where a parent and child jointly earn less than the parent alone used to previously earn.
As long as children are put to work, poverty will spread and standards of living will decline. In Pakistan, children constitute 52 per cent of the total population. At present, there are 36 million children between the ages of 5 and 15 years in the country. Out of this, an estimated 11 million do not have access to schools and of those enrolled, 12 million drop out before completing their primary education. The most obvious reason for such a glaring gap is the difference between the number of people and the resources at hand. In most families, with an average of 7-9 family members, children are expected to share the economic burden. The median age of children now entering the Pakistani work force is seven. Sometime back, it was eight. In rural areas children become labourers as soon as they can walk. According to the Pakistan Labour Force Survey of 2007-2008, 2.68 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 were working; this does not include the number of working children who are either older or younger than the prescribed age.
If parents are given decent employment opportunities, chances are they will not send their children to work and factories will not be able to exploit them. In fact, parents may produce fewer children which will automatically decrease the number of children available for work. The effectiveness of the concept of minimum wages will be evident when more adults earn a decent wage leading to more children leaving the job market and enrolling into school.
Most employers only hire children as a cost-saving method. If the opportunities for higher income are made available to adults and the minimum wage for both adults and children is universalised – irrespective of their age and productivity – along with a decline in population growth rate, it will impact employment practices and help tremendously in reducing child labour.
The prime minister has repeatedly pointed out that Pakistan is a young nation but has not done much to improve the lot of its young population. No serious legislation has been carried out in the past 20 years for the protection of children. Budgetary allocations for child-centred programmes are negligible and most of the budget on education is spent on salaries for teachers and the administration. There is no statutory body to protect the rights of the biggest group of citizens — the children.
Originally written for Express Tribune