The recent surge of interest in Tayyaba’s case is founded upon violations of the most basic tenets of human rights. Ever since the news broke out, the moral affront to human dignity has been strongly rebuked by human right advocates and public.
Laboring children have endured abuses for as long as the earliest settlements in Indus Valley. It is no wonder that the term child labor conjures up some really dreadful images in our heads. But this is 2017 and such atrocities need to be banished to the distant past.
Child labor is not just the problem of developing nations. Children routinely work in industrialized countries. In America, a large number of children are deployed on farms. These children are usually immigrants or ethnic minorities. In colonial days, no one questioned hazardous jobs awarded to child workers. Children were employed intensively in the agricultural and handcraft industry exposing them to a myriad of dangers. During the 1800s, children formed a reasonable portion of UK’s work force. They were employed as domestic servants, factory workers, and miners in coal mines. Some were employed by chimney sweeping companies to climb up chimneys for cleaning. At worst, this resulted in death. But even at the least it resulted in formation of calluses or irreversible lung damage from soot.
Reformers and activists from nineteenth century finally took it upon themselves to spearhead a movement to limit child labor. Initially, nothing budged. But eventually, a steep slump in economy in the 1900s finally swayed public opinion. It was during the market crash that Americans finally wanted to move the jobs away from children and channel them to adults.
Developed nations, to this date, have made noteworthy efforts to curb child labor. But this hasn’t stopped businesses in developed countries from shifting production to developing countries like Pakistan where child labor is still endemic.
At the global level, some of the reasons why child labor still exists is weak enforcement of laws, limited access to mandatory education, narrow scope of child labor laws, obsession with low costs, failure to uphold rights of workers and poverty.
Of all the reasons, poverty is widely considered the number one reason juvenile laborers are exploited. While poverty certainly exacerbates poor working conditions endured by child workers, it would be a sorry excuse to believe the abuses cannot be eliminated until poverty has been uprooted. Child labor can and must be eliminated independent of poverty. The scope of child labor should be broadened and the Tayyaba incidence is a compelling reason why.
According to the prevailing myth, the only defense against child labor is application of pressure through international sanctions and boycotts. However, sweeping measures like sanctions and boycotts will do nothing to alleviate the problem. They will only affect export sector which is the most visible but smallest contributor to child labor. For example soccer balls exported by Pakistan are made by children, but the number of children employed in such industries account for a very small proportion of child laborers in Pakistan. The major gunk of child labor is found in the informal sector: selling in streets, working on farms, or discretely tucked away in humongous houses of the rich elite.
Children’s exploitation contravenes many of the rights enshrined in international treaties. It is time governments make good the pledges they made at the time of ratifying conventions on rights of children. A comprehensive strategy needs to be chalked out by higher-ups. The strategy should support local initiatives and enforce implementations of laws like mandatory schooling. This will set children free from the clutches of labor.
Enforcement of mandatory education up to the secondary level of education will not only liberate child laborers from dangerous and risky jobs but will prepare them for safer jobs in future. Lack of education on the other hand will perpetuate poverty. Advances in technology can also help cut into the use of children by requiring employees to be educated up to a certain level.
But bear in mind that children do not just need freedom from labor, they need to be rehabilitated too. They and their families need to be empowered financially. Some of these children are orphans while others are struggling to pay off family loans by taking up work at brick kilns. Yet others are helping their parents support large families. With a single source of income to run the house, they cannot imagine sending kids to school. Even if it’s free.
Despite slew of laws prohibiting child labor, little progress has been made in the way of implementation. The drive for profits is sidelining the core values of care and compassion. Children continue to be employed in industrial and domestic settings as sources of cheap labor.
While activists strive to enforce reforms through legislature, conservative political environment, coupled with opposition from vested interest groups like farm organizations, prevent governments from ratifying reforms.