LAHORE - Child rights activists on Wednesday urged the federal and provincial governments to take drastic steps to abolish child labour at kilns in the province. 

“Child labour is one of the worst forms of modern-day slavery”, they said. Talking to APP, the experts while urging a ‘strategic policy plan’ to curb the menace called for collective action and mutual cooperation to end child labour from the country. Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) secretary Syeda Kaneez Fatima said that child labours at kilns were being pushed towards a difficult life. She urged the government to implement Child Protection Law in letter and spirit. Fatima said that a large number of children still constitute a significant part of the labour force in Pakistan. 

“Legislation relating to child employment are still not aligned with Article 25-A of the Constitution,” she said.

To a question, she said the article gave each child a right to education but unfortunately the employment of children remained unaddressed, particularly in sectors like agriculture, factories, small car workshops, shops, hotels, cinemas, vending on streets, fishing industry, mining, brick kilns, weaving, bracelet making, packing and construction.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Dr Karamat Ali said that due to child labour, Pakistan was facing a number of problems including poverty, ignorance and low illiteracy rate.

He said that unfortunately a majority of the 4.5 million brick-kiln workers in Pakistan were facing wages payment problems. Karamat said that children of labourers and workers should be given top priority, who play a key role in strengthening the national economy, adding that targets of development could not be achieved without prosperity, empowerment and due respect of workers.  He said child-labour in the labour environment were highly vulnerable to exploitation.

Zehra Khan, a noted labour rights expert said in Pakistan, the economy had been shifting from the formal to non-formal sector rapidly. She said that all these basic rights that should have been given to child-labour as per the constitution of the country, labour laws and different international labour conventions and standards, were being denied.

She said that kiln owners were outraged by the demands for basic rights, and often kidnap or torture man and women kiln workers by implicating them in false criminal cases.

Former Project Manager for Child-Labour-Elimination Programme, Punjab Labour & Human Resource Department, Malik Nazir said that forced labor imposed on children was the vilest act and none of societies allow this as children were the future and asset of any country.  He said the Punjab government had given labourers their due rights by taking measures for the prosperity of labourers.

Malik said 87,000 children of brick-kiln workers had been enrolled in different government-sponsored schools for providing them free education who were previously working in brick-kilns.

Besides, the children have also been provided financial assistance of more than Rs 340 million, he added.

He said that establishment of quality educational institutions for the children of labourers besides social security hospitals and labour colonies were a proof of labour-friendly policies of the Punjab government.

“An amount of Rs 50 billion has been spent on special initiatives taken for the prosperity of labourers and their children during last four years,” he said.

 To a query, Malik Nazir said that labourers were being provided quality medical health facilities in Punjab Social Security Hospitals at the cost more than Rs 24.14 billion.

He said that 47000 children of workers were being educated free of cost at Punjab Workers Welfare Board Schools.

Moreover, Rs 3.12 billion talent scholarships have been disbursed to children of workers, he said and added that Rs 2.55 billion marriage grants had been given to children of workers besides Rs 2.74 billion death grants.

Residential colonies at the cost of Rs 12 billion had been established for workers in Lahore, Multan and Nankana Sahib.

To another question, he said the Punjab government had allocated Rs 5 billion uptill now for the elimination of child labour and forced labour, adding the brick-kiln children were being provided with educational scholarships, free books, uniform, shoes, stationery and other educational facilities.

The Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Act is also an achievement of the Punjab goverment, he added.

To a question, he said that child labor would be eliminated from petrol pumps, workshops and hotels as well, adding more concentration on the education and training of children would lead the nation to prosperity and progress.