Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - Nearly half the world's soccer balls pass through the hands of child labourers being exploited in Pakistan, and the problem is growing. In 2004, the government-declared Year of Child Welfare, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) is calling for a total ban on all child labour and to provide free compulsory education for every minor. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), there are currently nine million child workers under the age of 14 in the country, a one-million increase from last year. The National Child Labourer Survey reports that the last official National Survey conducted in 1996 by the Federal Bureau of Statistics totalled 3.313 million child labourers.
The country's widespread problem shows the greatest concentration of underage workers in Sialkot, a northwest province of Punjab.
The International Labour Organization, in collaboration with provincial governments, conducted a survey to highlight 29 of the most hazardous professions which employ children. This National List of Worst Forms of Child Labour includes tanning, coal mining, manufacturing and sale of firework explosives, work at compressed natural gas and liquid petroleum centers, glass and metal factories, cloth printing, dying and finishing and other labours. SPARC has called for a new law to raise the minimum age of employment in these hazardous professions from 14 to 18 years old. The Employment of Children Act 1991 empowered the government to declare any form of profession as hazardous and to ban child labour in general. SPARC is now asking that the government include domestic child labour on the 'Worst Forms' list, and issue a separate law to regulate it. The organization has also sought for vigilance committees under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 be reconstituted and reactivated.
Pakistan's primary problems of unemployment, drug addiction, illiteracy and over-population, however, are great hindrances to abolish child labour in the country. (Q.F.)