Children rights’ activists have called for an inquiry after the tragic Sundar factory collapse exposed how blatant underage labour continues, with no action being taken against it. This collapse has been called the deadliest once in recent years, where most of the victims identified so far are children, as young as 12. There are 19 underage boys are among the 48 dead, while another 35 teenage boys are battling for their lives.

These boys were earning less than Rs 200 per day, while the owners of the factory were enjoying special incentives and government subsidies. It is clear that child labor goes unnoticed in the Punjab where number of unemployed youth is multiplying every year. Poverty-stricken teens are left with no other choices except to accept low paid labor jobs, with the labor department only existing on paper, laced with bribes to look the other way.

Iftikhar Mubarak, a leading child rights activist in Pakistan has urged the public to speak out against this exploitation, where these industrialists use their economic power to make sure that the Labour Department officers to skip regular inspections. For him, child labour, in fact, promotes poverty and, “this practice is a sheer violation of the constitution of Pakistan”. The government and its institutions are directly responsible for this incident - their callous attitude and lack of regulation has allowed this to happen.

The performance of the city district government and the Punjab Labour Department is also being questioned as field officials supposed to conduct regular inspections of the industrial units for working conditions of labourers, structural strength and child labour violations were absent from their duty.

This tragedy raises serious questions about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s claims of focusing on improving the state regulatory regime and jumpstarting an economic development agenda. It’s not like his government hasn’t had warnings that factory inspections were needed. At least six high-profile incidents of building collapses have occurred in Lahore since June 2014.

It is customary that nobody cares about illegal, unapproved and faulty construction work and practices, until it a tragedy occurs. Had the government departments done their job and implemented the laws, this catastrophe could have been avoided. There is no concept of moral responsibility, what to speak of honesty and following the rule of law. The Punjab government’s priorities are absolutely misguided.