Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour


Zishan Ahmad Siddiqi

The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Convention No 182, aiming at the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, received universal ratification this summer. All 187 member states of the ILO ratified and have thereupon pledged to provide legal protection against the worst forms of child labour. This convention is not only the first convention, which had been ratified universally but also a convention that has been ratified most rapidly, since its adoption in 1999.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, stated on this historic occasion, “universal ratification of Convention 182 is a historic first. It reflects a global commitment that the worst forms of child labour, such as slavery, sexual exploitation, the use of children in armed conflict or other illicit or hazardous work that compromises children’s health, morals or psychological wellbeing, have no place in our society.”

According to the ILO estimates, there are 152 million children living under child labour globally. Despite some good efforts that helped reduce the number of child labourers globally, the target to eliminate child labour by 2025 seems gigantic. The target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations, requires its member states to “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”

The need for a child labour survey to be conducted on war footings cannot be overemphasized. According to our nationally instituted estimates, there are some 3.708 million children in the age bracket of 10-17, who are living under child labour. These estimates, however, remain archaic at the best and elusive at worst. Let alone that we have credible information on the number of children living under the worst forms of child labour. So is the fate of these children that remains unforgiving by all means.

Some estimates suggest that there are around 1.5 million children living in the streets of Pakistan. Apart from the possibility of these numbers being ostentatiously deflated, the most probable destinations of these ill-fated children remain indisputably miserable. All of our children living in streets are highly endangered of falling victim to trafficking, slavery, sexual exploitation and employment for armed conflict or other illicit or hazardous activities.

The contemporary knowledge generated for the purpose of eliminating and combating child labour suggests that children who are denied schooling make the largest source of child labour. Such children are most prone to end up living on the streets for trash picking or begging. Later, the children living on the streets remain highly endangered of entering into the worst forms of labour i.e. trafficking, slavery, sexual exploitation and employment for armed conflict or other illicit and hazardous activities.

Pakistan is also an ILO member state and by partaking the global ratification of convention No 182, which aims at the elimination of the worst forms of child labour is obligated to accelerate measures to end child labour in all its forms by 2025. The most crucial task pertaining to such measures remains the enumeration of child labour. First of all, we need to know exactly how many children live under child labour, what are the largest clusters of child labour and what is the stratification of all such children. The need for a child labour survey to be conducted on war footings cannot be overemphasised.

The legal framework enacted to combating child labour and the worst forms of child labour also needs further strengthening. Pakistan is widely known as being immensely diversified geography as well as ethnicity. In the pre-devolution era, such legal frameworks remained archaic. However, the devolution empowered the provinces much enough to enact legislation respective to their pertinent needs and operating contexts. Almost all the provinces updated and enacted labour laws since the devolution.

The laws that are currently in place for combating child labour and the worst forms of child labour may not be the ideal. Yet, they remain in greater shape than they were in the pre-devolution era. However, the laws pertaining to child labour require imbuing the elements of the public interface. This could be done by incorporating in the laws a safe and facilitative whistleblowing mechanisms that seem quite fragile if currently subscribed at all. Also, these laws need to strengthen the elements of public engagement and monitoring mechanisms.

There are several civil society organisations in Pakistan working on elimination of child labour and the worst forms of child labour. However, the work performed by such organisations largely remains unrecognised and sporadic. The provincial and federal governments should consider designing and implementing a comprehensive coordination mechanism to ensure a concerted and targeted response. Such a mechanism shall help upscale child protection services.

District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) enacted formerly in Punjab is one of the examples of establishing such a coordination mechanism. The DVCs were primarily mandated to address child labour and bonded and forced labour. DVCs were supposed to comprise/bring together an array of stakeholders at the district level. The activation and effectiveness of DVCs remain a big challenge, however. The idea of enacting DVCs merits another attempt to mobilise for addressing child labour and the worst forms of child labour. Also, the provincial and national level enactment of Vigilance committees will also help monitoring and up-scaling of public engagement further.

To many of us, the worst forms of child labour are more indicative of social problems than the presence of an enfeebled legal framework. Laws are widely accepted as legal instruments of social justice, peace and harmony. However, the injunctions of laws are imbibed from the social maturity of a people. Laws seem improving fast but their implementation yet remains a big challenge.

Laws alone could not be viewed as the only source of ensuring social justice, peace and harmony. It is more of our collective conscious and ability that determine the shape of our society. A firm societal contract empowered by our collective disapproval of child labour and the worst forms of child labour is direly needed at the outset. The desirable social proceedings to safeguard our children will ensue thereafter.

Originally published in The News on August 14, 2020