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The Menace of Child Labour in Agriculture




  • Child labour, a highly condemnable crime against humanity, developed in the womb of industrialisation and is now fed on the debris of capitalism. A number of seminars in five star hotels and luxurious conferences at expansive halls are often arranged to check the plague of child labour on the 6th December of every year as a symbol of sympathy for the children of Others. It is, however, ironic that mostly children serve these national thinkers and intellectuals in their homes.

    Child labour may be defined as when children under the age …

    Child labour, a highly condemnable crime against humanity, developed in the womb of industrialisation and is now fed on the debris of capitalism. A number of seminars in five star hotels and luxurious conferences at expansive halls are often arranged to check the plague of child labour on the 6th December of every year as a symbol of sympathy for the children of others. It is, however, ironic that mostly children serve these national thinkers and intellectuals in their homes.
    Child labour may be defined as when children under the age of 15 are forced to work at hard and risky jobs that can harm them physically and psychologically, undermining their future prospects by keeping them away from education and suppressing their creative capabilities. According to estimates made by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations (UN) branch that deals with labour matters, there are at least 250 million working children under the age of fifteenin the world. Over half the number of children in Asia are engaged in labour, while in Africa, one in three children work and in Latin America, one in five.
    International Labour Organisation Convention No. 138 specifies 15 years as the minimum age for employment and allows relaxation from one to three years for light work in the case of underdeveloped countries. According to the UNICEF report (1997), a study of nine Latin American countries found that without the income of working children aged 13 to 17, the poverty rate would climb by 10-20 percent. The current labour force participation rate of children is over 12 percent for most countries of South Asia with the exception of Sri Lanka, where it is just two percent. This huge population of children participates in manufacturing cigarettes, matches, brass handicrafts, silk, silver jewellery, textile products, toys and work in mining, fishing, brick-making, fireworks, carpet weaving and gem polishing industries. Child labour opens the gates of child trafficking, kidnapping and many illicit activities like pornography, drug trafficking, etc. also prostitution which has been an attractive industry for the tourists all over the world. Child prostitutes risk contracting Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and venereal disease and suffer from lack of love and family attachment, resulting into a large number of psychological and reproductive disabilities.
    Now we come to the situation in Pakistan. National Survey of Child Labour conducted in 1996 by the Federal Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the ILO concluded that the total number of children in Pakistan falling in the age group of 5-14 years was 40 million. Out of this total, 3.3 million (or 8.3 percent) of all children in the country were economically active while the unofficial surveys demonstrate that more than eight million children are engaged in child labour. The majority of child workers, according to official figures, were boys (2.4 million or 73 percent) while the remaining (0.9 million or 27 percent) were girls and almost more than half of the child workers (1.94 million or 58.6 percent) were working in Punjab. No wonder that 70 percent of the children in Pakistan are working as unpaid family helpers; male 67 percent and female 78 percent.
    Children?s involvement in work in rural areas is about eight times greater than in urban areas. In rural areas, a majority of children is engaged in agriculture. Among these, a majority is involved in bonded labour. Bonded labour is actually a euphemism for slavery of children in which the parents are paid various amounts of money (maximum amount $850-1700) by the landlords and then the children are left at the mercy of their ?owners?. These children are utilised as farm labour and are provided food, shelter and clothing. Sometimes their marriage is conducted with the help of the owners. The wife of the purchased labourer is also forced to work for the owners.
    Labour in agriculture includes the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals. Farming is a tough job and it is impossible to do it on a large scale without collective effort and division of labour. The children of small farmers support their parents in a number of ways. They have to graze cattle, cut fodder, milk the cattle, prepare the seed beds, collect firewood, make dung cakes, irrigate the crops and assist in the harvest of all sorts of crops and fruits. Moreover, the work inside the home is usually done by children. The problem of forced child labour is that if children refuse to work, they are taunted, beaten and abused. Thus, a morality of obedience of elders and respect for power and valour is engendered in society unconsciously, based on the socio-economic conditions of the people. On the other hand, there are many factors which motivate the children to work happily. It has been observed that the rural children are fascinated by the idea of driving a tractor for ploughing. They take it as an honour and consider themselves grown up when doing heavy jobs. But lack of education, unavailability of proper training sometimes result in the exposure of these children to harmful things, such as pesticides sprayed for the protection of crops.
    Realising the hardships of farming and low outputs, and due to high unemployment rate, lack of resources, burden of debt, etc., some poor parents send their children to cities, who ultimately become child labour in factories. Children are preferred for labour for a number of reasons. First, they have no sense to evaluate their labour in monitory terms. Second, they are excited by the offer of minute rewards and have to do a lot of work in return. Many misconceptions like ?children never tire? or ?children are good learners? also support these exploiters. Third, there is no possibility of children organising into labour unions. Finally, they can be beaten, threatened and even sexually humiliated for work efficiency. The wages of children in agriculture are extremely low. The situation is so miserable that the wages paid even by educated and progressive farmers are Rs. 40 per day. When broad-minded and enlightened people pay only Rs. 40 per day, what amount would be paid by traditional feudal landlords?
    There are many opinions about the causes of child labour. The real cause of the child labour is poverty. Education can relieve children and their parents, but in rural areas education facilities are controlled by political forces. The educational system and traditional approaches of teaching at schools discourages the students. The creative and sharp students are always disliked and due to lack of psychological understanding of the students, they are forced to flee from schools. Parents, teachers and community members do not tolerate such children. They are taught a tough lesson of child labour as a permanent punishment.
    Article 11 (1-3) of the 1973 constitution prohibits employment of children less than 14 years of age in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment. The same article prohibits all forms of forced labour. Specific laws such as the Employment of Children Act (1991) and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (1992) codify the constitutional provision in law. Pakistan is signatory to ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182); ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29); ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105); and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In 2001, Pakistan ratified ILO?s Convention No. 182, which binds the signatory nation to commit itself to not allow children under the age of 18 to work in hazardous working conditions or in the worst form of child labour. Earlier in 1994, Pakistan had joined International Programme for the Elimination of Child labour (IPEC) and signed ILO-IPEC Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). It also approved a National Plan of Action (NPA) for the Progressive Elimination of Child Labour in 2000 with the coordination with European Commission, SAARC and other regional and international organisations. Recently, the ILO has also joined five international agriculture-based organisations, which include Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers? Associations (IUF) to combat the plague of child labour. The irony of the matter is that, in spite of all these efforts, the solution of the problem is far away, as the powers which have raised the banners ?Stop Child Labour? are directly or indirectly involved in the perpetuation of this menace.
    One wonders that when many ageing nations are yearning for a young population, we treat our youngsters as chhotas. They can perform many respectable and reasonable services for nation if they are provided suitable opportunities. Their lives should not be spoiled due to their poverty and on the lame excuse of lack of resources. The solution of the rural child labour is connected with the child labour of urban areas, as both sections are facing similar problems. Poverty alleviation is directly related with the eradication of child labour everywhere.
    By: Mazhar Hussain Ranjha and Shoukat Ali

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