LAHORE – He is the sole bread earner for his family. His father is not only a patient of asthma but also suffers from other medical disorders and cannot work. His elder brother is a special child while his younger sister goes to school while his mother looks after the family and there is no work available in his village near Raiwind. His whole life revolves around his workplace.  

This in simple is the story of 12-year old Danish, who works at a bakery near Thokar Niaz Baig. It has been two years since he moved from his village to his workplace. Danish is unaware about his salary. “My father comes to Lahore every month to get his medicine and collects my salary from my employer. Sahib (the employer) is very cooperative with us,” said the cute faced innocent kid.

Danish was surprised as to why details about his personal life were being asked. The look on his face changed when this scribe took his photograph. He rushed to his employer yelling: “Aik akhbar walay nay meri tasveer lee hai (a journalist has taken my photo. ”

The employer looked perturbed. “Are you going to give news on child labour?” questioned the employer with a long beard. “Why are you after his (Danish) livelihood? Let him work,” he stated in the same breath.

On explaining that the story would not be about the blight of child labour but just want to highlight the helplessness of children like Danish, who cannot go to school and have to work to feed their families.

“Oh…please keep it up. May the government help him if the rulers read this news,” said the kind-hearted employer and suggested that workplace on other side of the road also had children working there.

That workplace was hostel for students. The child working there was disabled. Muhammad Adnan lost one arm in an accident about three years back. He had come to Lahore from a village near Kasur. He is also a sole bread earner for his family.

“The students here give me Rs 5,000 every month besides place to sleep and food. I cannot go to school because I have to clean rooms, kitchen and bring grocery from market for the students who study in colleges and universities nearby. They (students) teach me during free time. I’m studying 5th grade books,” he told The Nation.

The scribe visited some book binding and printing shops at Shama area near Ferozepur Road, Urdu Bazar and Royal Park near Lakshami Chowk. Many children could be seen doing hard labour jobs. The whole area housing car and motorcycle workshops, hotels and tea shops had children working. The situation is same across the whole city. A wave of chill went down the spine when the thoughts suddenly visualized children working at brick kilns on the outskirts of the city. The Punjab government is overwhelmingly acting to curb child labour at brick kiln these days. All the best wishes but the problem of child labour is a much larger issue.

Director Labour Dawood Abdullah when asked about the results of government move against child labour was reluctant to discuss the issue. “There are going to be phases in which we will eliminate child labour. We are implementing child labour reforms at brick kilns in the first phase under the guidance of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif,” he said.

He said Punjab Labour Department was conducting a survey to find the exact number of child labour cases in Punjab.

However, he was not sure whether the children being sent to schools after raids at brick kilns would continue their studies for long with government support.

A leading activist Iftikhar Mubarik said the menace of child labour cannot be checked without first introducing social reforms in the society. He explained the miserable situation of the children working in non-formal sector. He revealed that the concerned government departments not only in Punjab but across the country did not even have any data regarding number of under-age workers. “The last child labour census across the country was conducted in 1996 and after that no survey had been done by any government. The entire system in-fact needs to be revamped. “Menace of child labour is not only restricted to Punjab but all over the country and in every under-develop and developing nation.

The child labour is deep rooted in our society and it is likely to continue unless a proper mechanism is developed to change the situation wherein children like Danish and Adnan will continue to suffer.