Sindh’s Provincial Assembly bans employment for minors under 14 and sets stricter rules for those up to 18. Pakistan's constitution guarantees free and compulsory education for children 5 to 16 years, but about 12.5 million children are forced to work. Economic reforms are needed.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistani activists have expressed doubts about a new law against child labour adopted by the Provincial Assembly in Sindh, south-eastern Pakistan.
The legislation stipulates that anyone who employs a minor under the age of 14 commits a crime, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and fines of up to 50,000 rupees (about US$ 475).
"Article 25-A of the Pakistani Constitution guarantees the right to free and compulsory education to all children aged 5 to 16. Hence there is a clear contradiction," said Nabila Feroz, a Catholic liaison officer with Sanjog, a children’s rights organisation.
"Ideally, the age for employment in Pakistan should be 18,” she told AsiaNews. “Still, we welcome the move; at least there is some progress.”
On Wednesday, the Sindh Provincial Assembly adopted the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill 2017, which outlaws work by children under the age of 14, and imposes specific restrictions on companies and factories employing young people aged 14 to 18.
Fines of up to 100,000 rupees (US$ 950) can be imposed on companies employing children in hazardous work.
The case of Tayyaba, a 10-year-old girl employed as a domestic servant in Islamabad, was the spark behind the new legislation, which is already in place in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The girl’s employer, the wife of Additional Sessions Judge Raja Khurram Ali Khan, tortured her because she had lost a broom, sparking outrage and controversy.
Something similar occurred in 2010, when Naeem Chaudhry, the former president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, the city’s oldest lawyer association, was accused of killing Shazia Shaheen, a 12-year-old Christian girl he was employing as a maid.
According to international organisations, the scourge of child labour involves some 12.5 million children in Pakistan. At least 60 child workers, mostly girls, have died in the past six years.
A 2015 report on human trafficking drafted by the US State Department noted that many children, some as young as five, are sold or kidnapped to be used in brick kilns.
For Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Awamy Workers Party, the exploitation of child labour is the biggest social problem in the country.
"The Punjab government has imposed a total ban on child labour in the brick industry,” he noted, “but many still work in tea stalls, workshops and hotels. Only economic reforms will discourage poor families from sending their children to work."