Lahore (AsiaNews) - "We have no hopes with present legislators and policy-makers", said Master Muzafar Hussain and Master Qaiser Mehmood, respectively 14 and 12. "We live on our own. The leaders are least bothered about the street-children's welfare," the two brothers told AsiaNews.
Despite hardships and deprivations, the two have not lost hope for a brighter future. In the morning, they go to school, and in the afternoon, instead of playing or doing homework, they go into streets to sell electronic gadgets and toys "Because our father does not earn enough for the family." Conscious of the situation, "We have to give up our leisure time and economically help our parents."
As civil society celebrated World Day against Child Labour, the two boys went through the same routine of work, dedication and sacrifice yesterday.
Child exploitation in agriculture was the theme of the tenth edition of the event sponsored by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In farming, about 70 per cent of the workforce is under the age of 18.
According to SPARC, a Pakistan child rights NGO, child labour is widespread in many sectors of society, "from light jobs to hazardous tasks." Recent estimates "indicate that around 11-12 million children are employed as child labourers, half of them under the age of ten."
In the morning, Hussain and Mehmood attend grade 9 and 6 class at a public school in Lahore. Once they put away their books, they head out to sell toys, balloons and electronic accessories until 9 PM.
When asked what they thought about the World Day against Child Labour, they said, "We do not know what it is." They do know however that by working, "our younger brothers can get a standard education."
Mehmood, the younger of the two, cannot hide his desire "to play with his schoolmates in the evening, but I cannot do it because my mother says: 'We need the money'."
The 12-year-old has no "specific demands" for the government, but he does hope that one day he can "travel by car, study in a standard school and spend times with friends."
In the future, he wants to become an engineer to leave behind his present hardships. His 14-year-old brother shares the same hopes. With a book in one hand and goods to sell in the other, he too walks the streets of the city.
"Sometimes, people discourage me and do not allow me to get close to their cars or kids," he said.
He feels hurt by people's hatred or contempt towards him because he is "poor and a labourer". He also feels "embarrassment" when some of his schoolmates see him working.
Suddenly, the boys' father Shair Muhammad shows up on his motorbike. He too sells toys he carries on his bike.
"I'm trying to educate my children the best I can," he told AsiaNews. "I'd like to give them a better education, but they have to work hard."
He is proud of them and their economic contribution to the family; he is also not shy to criticise the government for "its unsatisfactory progress and poor policies" for children.
For him, "It's because of poor governance and unequal distribution of resources in society."