Education v/s Life

‘In 1999, it was estimated that there are 10 million child labourers in Pakistan.’ This sounds horrific. Pakistan’s ministry of Education is portrayed as an evil force destroying the lives of children and depriving them of education.

The glorious, legendary success of the program, ‘Parha Likha Punjab’, makes me wish it was initiated earlier in time as ‘Parha Likha Pakistan’. (Those who praise the program and argue about Punjab having the highest literacy rate are excused and can miss the sarcasm).

It was because of our ‘kids’ working that Pakistan’s products (sports goods and carpets, to name a few) were banned internationally. Nations raised a question: Why should children make soccer balls for other children? They questioned right. However, involvement in a thought-process before posing such questions and banning our products would have been a better idea.

Unfortunately, the ‘children’ mentioned in the question cannot be categorized as one. In fact, the two distinct groups these children can be divided into are likely to lie on opposite ends of any spectrum. It’s wrong for a child to make soccer balls for another child, but what will happen in a country like Pakistan once a ban is placed?

Due to restricted exports, the minor will lose his job. Ideally, this child should end up studying in a school. Whereas in Pakistan, he will start looking for new work and will be ready to offer his labour at cheaper rates. This will mean more work, more time away from home and more deprivation.

Child labour was (or is) an international dilemma. Those advocating against child labour in Pakistan argue using fancy statistics of United Kingdom or the United States. However, it should be noticed that it wasn’t before 1889 in Britain and 1938 in America (103 years after independence) that strict laws restricting child labour were put into practice.

Pakistan can realize the malevolence of child labour more than any other country primarily because we have suffered economically due to bans imposed on our products in the past. The International Labour Organization claimed in 2003 that banning child labour and educating all children would raise world’s income by 22% over 20 years. The international community seems well on track as far as banning child labour is concerned. But the second condition of raised world incomes tends to be ignored.

The long run estimated rise in world income is of little interest to families which are way below the poverty line and have no option other than sending their children to work instead of a school. If that child is not employed due to international pressures of banning child labour, the families will suffer heavily economically and even psychologically as a result.

If Pakistan did not stop child labour, the international community placed strict bans. The ban-imposers tried and successfully created goodwill for themselves. They fulfilled their social responsibility. But does social responsibility only include not letting social evils enter your organization, your industry or your country? Did the ones imposing bans ever try to check whether the children they got fired were later enrolled in a school? Did those organization come back to see the fall in the standard of living of families the children belonged to?

Yes, it’s wrong for children to make soccer balls for other children, but do they have any other option? Enrolment in a school could cost them their life. Leaving work and starting education is literally a ‘fatal’ idea for them.

Sadly, we do nothing to change this. Our government has done more than it needed to. It was because of the Pakistani government that we have a ‘Parha Likha Punjab’. Expecting more ‘favours’ from the government which is currently trying to solve ‘important’ issues sounds unthankful.

It took a long time for the UK and US to pass laws banning child labour. In a survey of 26 developing countries, 70% of child labour is employed in the agricultural sector. Pakistan is an agrarian economy and employs many of its children as a result.

In Pakistan as of today, education of a child comes at an economic cost to some families. The people who are striving to alleviate child labour need to diversify their area of interest and include in their plan the ‘no-cost child labour abolition’.

The ‘no-cost child labour abolition’ would promise to eradicate the evil of child labour yet inflicting no cost to the families in any way, economic or psychological. This may mean a monetary compensation equal to the wage paid to the child for leaving work and studying in a school.

This would require an increase in the budget allocated to education, a drastic decrease in ghost schools and a significant number of literate teachers. Who would take a step forward is the question.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. yasir bhutta
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 19:51:53

    Ok i guess this was the issue that some anthropologist raised in his p.hd thesis and if we deeply look at his report we will find that those children who were ”sacked” from their jobs didnt get any other job coz all or most of the factories had stopped hiring children. One important point he raised was, specially in case of football, that all the fifa approved football should be hand stitched and these children who start the work at young age become pure professionals earning high wages when they are into the twenties. So, the factories were kindda schools for them where they would learn the skill and use it to win bread for their families in future. Anyhow all the ”child labour” or whatever they call it still continues in far away footholds of those factories and although on the face of it you dont see any children working in factories; tens of thousands work in the far away huts and more than quarter of the production still is by these children.
    Anyhow i guess i was surprised that some student from an elite university would note the issue with the eye of the child whose future seemed hopeless after the western humanism tried to take him from a factory to school. Instead of providing him with school, they got him sacked from his job and left him at the mercy of heavens..


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