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EDITORIAL: Millions of children in this country are engaged in child labour deprived of the right to education promised by the Constitution (free and compulsory for all 5 to 16-year-olds), and hopes of a better future than their parents. They toil instead in brick kilns, motor workshops, fisheries, tea shops, other people’s homes and various other fields, to supplement family incomes.

The worst off are those working in the agricultural sector of Sindh. According to a survey conducted by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA), as many as 1.7 million people, including women, work as bonded labourers — a form of slavery. 700,000 of them are children. Aside from economic exploitation, these children can suffer physical torture, even sexual abuse at the hands of their ‘masters’ or his/her minions. It’s a shame that this should be happening in this day and age.

It’s been a while since the provincial government introduced the Sindh Bonded Labour (system) Act, 2015. Under it, district vigilance committees (DVCs) were to be constituted to monitor non- compliance with the law and take action against violators. Unfortunately, however, the authorities concerned have evinced little interest in forming these committees.

By 2020, out of 29 districts of the province only 12 had put in place DVCs. Part of the reason for lack of action is attributable to the overwhelming influence the big landowners exercise over the power structure. But there is also an indubitable lack of empathy for the poor and the powerless haris (landless peasants). Concerned citizens, nonetheless, have been actively pursuing the issue. Thanks to tireless efforts by rights groups as per HWA data, on court orders some 3,329 children along with their families were freed from the custody of vederas during 2013-2021. Yet countless others remain in bondage, denied of their fundamental rights. This is a complete anathema to civilised sensibilities.

Unfortunately, our ruling elites seem to be least bothered about child labour. With the worsening of the economic situation more and more families are going to go under the extreme poverty line, forcing them to send their children to work in exploitative conditions. That means a large number of young people will never be able to realise their full potential and lead happy productive lives.

Needless to say, socio-economic progress of the country is linked to better educated and healthy younger generation. It is in the larger national interest, therefore, that governments in the provinces pay attention to their obligations under the Constitution as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals which, among other things, call for achieving universal primary education and eradication of extreme poverty. It falls upon civil society to ensure that, unlike the previous UN Millennium Development Goals, governments at the centre and in the provinces do not shrug off the present ones.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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