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Like many other global trends, the child labour, which is, certainly at the top of the global agenda, once again has been adopted as a trendy agenda in Pakistan by the mushrooming CSO sector and CSO-trained public sector. Child labour is a multi-dimensional issue and the organizations involved in condemning it have their own perspectives, objectives and interests. With no intentions of demystifying this complex, one would focus on the difference between child labor and child work, and possible consequences of deliberate or unapprised exercise of the two terms interchangeably.
Child labor reflects the violation of child rights leading to exploitation and deprivations of all kinds. Child work reflects social inequity and insecurity, dearth of social safety networks, magnitude of poverty, paucity of opportunities for health and education, and financial independence. Is it right to confuse the two states or situations? Is it cogent to advocate the eradication of child labor while equating it with child work? Have the Development Pundits ever thought of the catastrophe or tragedies bound to materialize due to this horrendous perplexity of a misnomer? One does not need to wait for a foreign donor funding to undertake any complex research to answer these questions. One only needs to look deeper while seeing around and listen carefully while hearing the sound in one's environs to seek answers to such questions.
The maid servant of the kids of a number of well to do families is a child girl. The boy looking after many household chores in our huge villas is often a child. The workshops for our cars are reliant on a mechanic who is the well-known"Chhota." These "Chhotas" are also serving tea and snacks in tuck shops either by the roadside or inside any
College or office canteen. Who are these children? Are they child labourers or child workers? All of them hail from poor families with more mouths to feed than hands to earn? Are not these children, who are putting so much sweat for a large family to survive, personified violation of human rights and a big slap in the face of our socio-political system? Should their efforts be interpreted as the widely hated child labour or much respected dignity of labour championed by the West?
"Say no to child labour" is a catchy slogan echoing these days. Has someone thought beyond raising the slogan? What would happen to the already terrible plight of the teeming millions who get " too much to die and too little to live" through their children?
All the efforts geared to eradicate child labor are doomed to generate new social ills and add to the existing ones if they lack well-integrated solid commitment, foresightedness and vision. Just imagine what would happen if a "ban" is imposed on their legitimate labour? Where would they go? Would they be able to go the school, which could turn them into potential civil servants, doctors, etc? And where they can relish full rights framed by the UNO? Or should they go in search of any job anywhere on this not so gentle earth to feed their families? They will not get either. As a result they may become sex workers; they may become criminals; they may start catering to the drug dealers and abusers….the list is never ending. Their vulnerable family members may meet the same fate. Who is going to be blamed for this? We could curse only our shortsightedness or our gullibility in the face of foreign pressure.
One by no means, is in favor of bonded work done by children. One is also fully aware of the occupational hazards and psychosomatic disorders associated with such situations. My expectation from those who stroll in the corridors of power, politics and policy-making is to adopt a humanistic and holistic approach towards a problem. Treat the patient, not the disease only. They should take into consideration all possible determinants of a particular problem while suggesting solutions. Raising a lot of hue and cry against child work alias child labor and threatening poor parents/guardians of possible punishment if they do not send their children to schools, do sound progressive but not problem- solving. We have to develop the skill of analyzing our own situation and then coming up with our own solutions.
"Rampant" child labour is one of the stigmas bestowed upon Pakistan. I do not wish to impress or depress anyone with low positions registered by our country on a variety of development indicators in various situation analyses. However, I do want to bring on record that our country has been treated like a guinea pig by everybody including ourselves. We have been depending on the outsiders to discover our problems and their solutions. We have never been able to identify and prioritize the main issues and problems. Every now and then, some big donor agencies and some influential luminaries from abroad have to descend on our home -land to convince us that hence forth, our problem is environment degradation; now it is the increase in population growth rate; now, the human rights violations, etc etc. But we have never been able to gather a critical mass to admit openly that we are a society of hypocrites. We believe in class system. We have different modes of action and sets of rules for the masses and the classes in all spheres of social development; be it education or health or economic and political participation in governance. Worsening the matter is the fact that we are able to use (abuse) religion as a justification to many of our misdeeds and irrational behaviors. Islam enjoins equality of opportunities. Where is that in our policy or practice? In reality, ours is a society where some people are more equal than the others. The vast majority of less equals belong to low socio-economic strata and include women and children. The need of the time is to offer enabling environment for education and economic opportunities for the disadvantaged communities. We as a nation have to develop the art and science of looking into the issues through our own lens rather than accepting the visions created elsewhere. It is more applicable to a complex problem like child labour than anything else.
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