“How will my family survive if I do not work and earn money to feed them?” says 12-year-old Hameed when I ask him why he isn’t in school.
Hailing from Taluka, a subdistrict of Khairpur, Sindh, Hameed, along with other children of his age, is a handicraft maker.
The work requires him to start his day much earlier than school going children. He goes to a local store and works till sunset, earning only Rs100 per day making sofa-like chairs known as moorho in Sindhi. They are made using chusquea culeou bamboo, combined with reeds and straw.
Pakistan has been unsuccessful in providing social protection to its citizens.
The country’s first report on poverty (2015-16) reveals that 39 percent of Pakistanis live under multidimensional poverty and its prevalence is higher in rural areas.
The state’s neglect has given rise to child labour. Children’s social development is compromised and child labour is given precedence over education.
Like Hameed, all the child labourers are from poor households and don’t have any other choice but work at a young age to support their families.
Although child labour has declined globally, it has witnessed an increase in Pakistan. It is estimated that there are 0.88 million children between 10-14 years of age engaged in labour in Sindh.
The agriculture sector in rural areas of Sindh provides various opportunities of informal work.
Most children work at farms to assist their elders in harvesting or handling the byproducts of crops, which includes making products like moorho and other furniture.
There are many safety hazards children are exposed to. They have to go to the fields to gather reeds, straw and bamboo.
It’s dangerous because of the insects, scorpions, snakes, and wild animals in the fields. They collect raw material without any safety equipment, usually with their bare hands, which can cause injuries.
Despite the hard work, they earn a meagre wage, which is not enough to lift their families out of poverty.
Normally, a moorho is made within a few days and the child gets Rs300 to 400 per chair sold, even though the market price of the product is ten times that amount.
As the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation continues, these children remain aware of this. But to them, survival is more important.
These children are like any other. They too have dreams for a better future, for seeking an education and having better jobs.
Yet, given the state of affairs of the country and especially Sindh, it’s unlikely that they would be able to live their dreams anytime soon.
All photos are by the author
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