New form of bonded child labor?

Bonded child labor has been existent since hundreds and thousands of years now. Various movements and campaigns have been started to end child labor in order to save these innocent children from being exploited at the hands of their employers. In the past, the children were ideal employees hired by factory owners and businessmen as they were moldable, incapable of holding protests and worked on meagre salaries. For financial stability, poor families would leave their children on contract labor in the form of bonded employees.
Pakistan is no exception to this cruelty against children in the past. The story of Iqbal Masih in itself is a glaring example of the clutches and shackles of bonded slavery. The child fought against the discrepancies that he and his fellows had been facing for years. His movement helped many of his peers to get rid of bonded labor but Iqbal was slayed in mysterious circumstances in an abandoned field. Iqbal’s movement coupled with the advent of International Labor Laws paved way to the imposition of ban on child labor and the introduction of labor laws in Pakistan.
In today’s time, child labor laws are very well written and beautifully documented. To some extent, child labor has ended but a new form of child labor has sprouted under the shadow of elitism. The same could be witnessed everywhere but nobody bats an eye. It could be observed in malls and food courts where minors are seen carrying their age fellows or those a year or two younger than them. These children mostly belong to the domestic helpers of these elites. The exploitation costs their employersa few thousand rupees but for the children, it costs them their education, future and innocence.
This kind of labor is the modern form of child labor. The children are given full fledge responsibility to take care of their age fellows. Many a time, videos make rounds across the internet where the domestic helpers are made to sit at another table while the family enjoys the meal in a restaurant. This is true manifestation of the menace of elitism. Furthermore, the child servants at this tender age are the most vulnerable to being subjected to domestic violence and harassment owing to being naïve.
In short term, hiring these children gives a little boost to the economic state of their families but in the longer run, the practice is visibly affecting the literacy rate in Pakistan. These few thousand rupees might help their families for time being but this will strip them of a bright future. The education of such children stops as soon as they enter the struggle of earning livelihood at a very young age.
The children are underpaid and full-time care-takers of their employers’ children. It is not a surprise that our out-of-school children statistics are ashigh as 22.8 million (children between 5-16 years of age) according to UNICEF as many of these unfortunate children are taking care of their rich age-fellows or doing other forms of child labor.
Apart from child labor at factories, the practice of domestic servitude of children especially by the elites also needs to be stopped.According to the Pakistan Employment of Children Act 1991 as well asarticle 11 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,it is illegal to employ children under the age of 14 and those that violate the act are liable to being penalized.
During the month of August, 2020, child domestic labor was banned for the first time as it was made illegal to make children participate in domestic labor. It was also recognized by the government that the repercussions ofdomestic child labor include trauma and abuse. Despite the presence of stringent laws, domestic child labor is still very prevalent in the country especially in big cities. The issue of domestic child labor is grave but certain actions must be taken in order to do away with this menace.
The first and foremost task for the government is to implement the available child protection laws in letter and spirit. Violators must be penalized and given exemplary punishment so as to avert others from hiring children below the prescribed minimum working age.
Secondly, the government needs to increase the minimum age to 16 so as to fulfil the essence of article 25(A) of the constitution. This will not only avert the employers from exploiting young children but it will also ensure that these children will be able to avail their basic right of education
Thirdly, it is the responsibility of each and every citizen of Pakistan to report any cases of underage hiring of children for domestic chores including care-taking of other children. We as citizens should not act as spectators but name and shame such people that feelno shame in hiring and exploiting such unprivileged children. Even if they do take these children as domestic helpers to accompany their parents, it must be ensured that the children are not hired full-time and that their education is not compromised at the altar of elitism. Those who are able to fund or sponsor the education of these children should take the lead as by doing so, they would in fact be making the fate of these children and bring them out of the vortex of perpetual poverty.
Fourthly, media must also play its positive role in sensitizing the masses regarding the menace of domestic child labor and aware people to highlight and report such cases in their vicinities.
In addition to this, awareness must be raised regarding the importance of children’s education so that parents do not let their children enter domestic servitude or other forms of child labor. Thus, the whole scenario requires collective efforts to eradicate domestic child labor practices across the country. In a nutshell, either another Iqbal Masih is needed today to fight domestic child labor or we ourselves must act to break the cycle of child labor in order to pull people out of the vortex of perpetual poverty.

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