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Pakistani boys sitting in a wheelbarrow wait for customers at a food market in Islamabad.—AFP Photo

PESHAWAR: Like any other day, June 12 also passed bringing no change to the life of Waqas.

Waqas, a vendor, has grown up in the streets and markets of Saddar in Peshawar. Sometimes you would see him sell combs and at other times sweets and balloons. His parents are so poor that he supplements the family income by working as a vender after school.

He is in 8th grade and has dreams of a bright future. Since he knows he is to excel in life on his own, he has matured faster than those who have parents to take care of their education and other expenses.

Like him, there are thousands of children, who straight away enter a life full of labour and hardships. They lose their right to education and instead of going to school for learning, streets, markets, auto-workshops and shops are their classrooms to teach them hard lessons of life. They miss out of simple joys of childhood and mature quite fast.

Underweight, malnourished and dirty-faced beautiful children sitting on footpath in Saddar market requesting you to weigh yourself on their weighing scales can be quite embarrassing for those potbellied parents, who bring their children for shopping but regrettably, who cares for these children of the poor.

It is ironic that non-governmental and even government labour departments hold news conferences to raise public awareness of the issue of child labour on World Day against Child Labour instead of striving every single day throughout the year to fight against factors, which force children into labour at such tender age.

Child rights activists count poverty as one of the main reasons of this curse on children and saddening fact is that the government has no strategy or effective policy to save children from becoming labourers.

Different organisations give different figures to show how grave this child labour issue is in the country.

According to child rights activists, they still rely on a figures compiled by ILO and Bureau of Statistics in 1996 that show that 3.3 million children are in child labour in the country. Look at the number of child labourers in auto-workshops and markets and severity of the problem is quite visible.

Data compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its 2005 report say 10.2 million children are forced to do labour and shocking fact is that half of these children are said to be of less than 10 years of age.

If there are no fresh data available, one could only imagine looking at the population growth of the country that in the last decade or so the number of children doing different kinds of labours, too, might have risen.

Child rights activists confirm these concerns and say it was ironic that while in the rest of the world child labour was on decline, in Pakistan it was on rise due to rise in poverty and also due to man-made and natural disasters. Children who went to schools were now going to work as their families have been affected by conflict and militancy in the last decade, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

The government, which is supposed to ensure that a child had access to basic right of education and other facilities for his overall development no doubt, seems to have failed in its responsibility when you see almost 10 million children work in auto-mobile shops.

No doubt, the government can’t just pull these children out of auto-workshops and force them to enroll in a government school. However, it can ensure that a child who is getting technical training as a Shagird at an auto-workshop also gets basic education and in the end, come out as a diploma holder having the skill as well as education to earn a decent living in his remaining life.

The government needs to ensure that labour laws are properly implemented at a workplace where children are employed. It should also ensure that children are not involved in labour hazardous to their health. The law relating to their working hours and wages should also be effectively implemented so that children could give more time to their education and other activities needed for their normal development.

Since child labour is a reality in our country, it is natural to blame the government for not being able to bring some kind of strategy to cater to the needs of these children coming from poor families. However, parents giving birth to a child every other year without having enough resources to properly bring them up should also be made aware of how to properly plan family. If that is not a solution, then they should at least not put their economic burden on the weak and delicate shoulders of their children but vote for a government in the upcoming election, which gives priority to their basic issues. Child labour, which is a complex issue, can be resolved if the government and parents have a strong resolve to do so.

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