It is highly unfortunate that Pakistan still struggles with effectively castigating cogent cases of encroachment on children’s rights. Much of the problem lies within the Pakistani society’s imagination: employers convince themselves that the act of employing is actually them helping children from indigent households by providing their families with a source of income. A large chunk of the population that employs child workers in the country finds comfort in a line of justification that focuses more on immediate rewards for the families of these child workers and not the long-term consequences of creating exploitative power structures. In exchange for nickels and dimes, children fall prey to these structures just as their employers bask in a false sense of philanthropy.
In a report released by the ‘Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child’, over 70,000 cases of violence were recorded against children in 2014. According to estimates of the ILO, Unicef and the Child Rights Movement, there are presently about 12 million, 10 million and 9.89 million child workers in the country. The plight of street children and those with disabilities is also an area of considerable concern to Child Rights Activists in Pakistan.
Since the Supreme Court took suo-motu notice of the Tayyaba case, a small window of opportunity has opened to bring larger issues to the forefront, with regards to the state of working children of school-going age in Pakistan. This is also an opportune moment for all of society to collectively delve deeper into the discomfort and reluctance felt in openly criticizing the practice of hiring children as domestic workers, and engage in some self-reflection.
One of the crucial problems in this issue is that of poverty. The Provincial Assembly of Punjab passed the ‘Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act’ (2014) to help children forced to work with their parents in brick kilns go to school. Such initiatives must be further explored and extended. Article 11 and Article 35 in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan prohibits forced labor and guarantees protection of child rights respectively. In order to tackle the issue, acknowledging it and addressing the role of the individual in perpetuating it is pertinent. The domestic slavery of children is perceived by the majority as normal and only necessary. The narrative must be rewritten and in order to do so the media and civil society must play an equal role along with the Judiciary and the Executive.