ISLAMABAD - Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari has said in memory of Zohra Shah and all other children who have been victims of abuse and exploitation, we must reaffirm our collective commitment to protect our children and ensure that each child is given the opportunity to realize their potential.

She, in a statement on Thursday in connection with World Day against Child Labour, said every year, the international community commemorates the day on July 12. This year, as the world confronts an unprecedented pandemic, children face an increased risk of child labour, child marriages and other forms of exploitation. She said the COVID-19 public health emergency has disrupted the right to education for children across the world.

In Pakistan, where there are already an estimated 22.8 million children out-of-school, this is likely to adversely affect learning outcomes and exacerbate existing inequalities in educational attainment such as high female dropout rates. Projections estimate an alarming five fold increase in drop-out rates due to the crisis, she added.

Mazari said child labour causes children physical, psychological, moral and social harm. There are an estimated 152 million children in child labour around the world, 72 million of which are in hazardous work. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are an estimated 8.5 million child workers in Pakistan. Child labour is most rampant in agriculture (76 %) followed by the service (14.6 %) and manufacturing (6.7 %) industries, where children work long hours and are often exposed to hazardous substances and poor living conditions.

She said in a recent tragic incident in Rawalpindi, eight-year-old Zohra Shah was allegedly ruthlessly killed by her employer for accidently releasing some expensive parrots from their cage. Child domestic workers are often the victims of torture, rape, murder, and other forms of abuse. Zohra’s case has prompted the Ministry of Human Rights to propose a significant amendment to classify child domestic labour as a ‘hazardous occupation’ under Schedule 1 of the Employment of Children Act 1991, in an effort to strengthen legislation pertaining to the issue.

“MoHR works on reviewing and strengthening laws and institutional mechanisms to protect child rights in Pakistan. Laws at the federal and provincial level set bans on hazardous work for children and minimum age limits for labour. Moreover, Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC); its Optional Protocols; and ILO Conventions related to Child Labour,” Minister Shireen Mazari, in her press statement, said. She also urged the general public to report cases on Child Labour on the Ministry’s helpline 1099.

On this occasion, Federal Secretary for Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha said the Ministry of Human Rights recognizes the gravity of the issue of Child Labour in Pakistan.

“It deprives children of their childhood, robs them of their futures and violates their fundamental right to education that is enshrined under Article 25-A of the Constitution. We must continue working steadily, cautiously and collectively towards the elimination of Child Labour from society while mitigating economic vulnerabilities and considerations.”

She said for the first time in 23 years, Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) in collaboration with UNICEF, has launched a national Child Labour Survey that is due to complete by Dec 2020. “This will give us a clearer map of the situation and help guide interventions to effectively tackle the issue and protect the rights of children in Pakistan,” she added.