Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Child Labor

I wrote this around June 2009, so I beg your pardon for any silly mistakes or errors or whatever. And I'm not going to re-read it now just to see what it's like. But I was cleaning my Flash Drive and just saw this in the "My Writings" folder. And I was like, "Whaaaaaaaaa?! Where was this? I should put this on my blog." Heck, I had written so much stuff and saved it on my flash drive, but over 80% of it has disappeared now because my flash drive got a virus that left much of my PDF and Word documents empty :( Epic sadness. Khair, thankfully, this long one was one of the 5 or 6 that got saved.
Child labor is a disparaging phenomenon all over the third-world. Although it has been a silent matter for an excruciatingly long period of time now, it is starting to gain some attention from the media as well as the society where it is practiced. Our potential future teachers, doctors, lawyers, business owners, and other professionals are being denied the right to learn to read and write; many are instead forced to wake up early in the morning and push wheelbarrows filled with bricks and cement around new homes and buildings while their privileged neighboring children walk to school. In most cases, these children belong to poor families and have no access to education; if they were not put to labor, they would be roaming around the streets just like many of the children who neither work nor attend schools. Although child labor may have a couple of benefits to offer the society, it has far more drawbacks and is not worth it. It ultimately results in hindering our progression and development as a nation and is therefore crucial for discussions that can help us plot solutions and alternatives for the cause.

 Before we attempt to illustrate the cons of child labor, it is important to decide what it is. After all, not all work that children perform is bad; it is when they are abused and exploited that their labor becomes objectionable. However, child labor has no fixed definition. As long as the work that children do is not paid, causes them mental and physical torture, and deprives them of their basic education, it is harmful and needs voices raised against it. Just as importantly, their labor robs them of a normal and blissful childhood that all children in all society in all times have a universal right to. If any of these result from the work that children are forced to do, then it is child labor, and throughout this article, this will be our understanding of the phenomenon.
If a society did not need to push its children into the form of slavery known as child labor, it most probably would not do it then. And children do not choose to work; they are forced to. There can thus be several reasons for why child labor is prevalent, particularly in the Pashtun society. Poverty is one, in conjunction with an awfully low rate of unemployment. Because underprivileged families need more than one income to live on, they are compelled to send their children to work as well. Or because they might be living in rented homes, they have to pay their landlords by having their children work for them – for free. Child labor is thus a means of survival in such poverty-stricken societies. However, we must realize that child labor itself is guaranteed to lead to more poverty if the children involved remain unschooled. In such a case, poverty then does not only serve as a reason for child labor but a result as well.

Another cause is war and other strife in the land. It is outright unfair that while men create and initiate wars, it is mostly children who have to pay for it. Yes, men suffer as well, but it is their children who taste the suffering far more. Looking at the condition of Pashtuns today, we can conveniently expect a large number of our children in the market tomorrow, with their fathers and other breadwinners killed in the war, their limbs broken, eyes blinded, ears deafened, schools burnt, books closed, and so on. And because our economy is not good enough for us to pay them for their work, they will go unpaid – thus continuing the cycle of poverty and child labor. And why not? It is practically their only means of survival; what more must we expect?  

Further, our society has yet to acknowledge children’s rights; we strip them of their rights as humans, not just as children, when we put them to the devastating task of labor at such a young age. Since it is one of the many deeply-rooted affairs in our society and culture, it needs an intense analysis and a practical approach to not ban it entirely but to reduce it. The Pakistani government has taken some initiatives against the cause, but it is too extreme at this level. For instance, according to the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, “No child below the age of fourteen, shall be engaged in any factory or mine or in any other hazardous employment” and “all forms of forced labor and traffic in human beings is prohibited.” What is wrong with this prohibition is that there are no regulations as per the penalty for those who fail to abide by this law. Moreover, the government has proven itself weak in providing alternatives for child labor; for it to ban it altogether, then, is utterly impractical. For example, were the government to present some financial aid to families with no or low incomes, such that these families did not have to turn to child labor for survival, it would be more sensible to pass laws against it. Were it also to enforce education upon every child and actually implement the law – not just pass it – there would be more hope for having child labor demolished, as children’s first priority would be schooling rather than working.
Unfortunately, neither of the above examples are the case.

Let us now consider some of the problems that child labor gives birth to. Firstly, it leads to an uneducated society, as these children are denied the opportunity to go to school. Many of these children are used in carpet, shoes, and construction industries; many more are used as beggars, sometimes causing their perpetrators to harm them physically so as it to make them appear more genuine as beggars; others are used as domestic-helpers, mechanics, shopkeepers, cars cleaners, and hotel workers. Needless to say, this paves a path to the destruction of the children’s minds and bodies enough to prevent them from developing into educated beings who can fight for their rights as humans; they therefore become unable to grasp the tools, knowledge, and confidence required to escape such harsh living conditions, prone to passing the lifestyle on to their children and consequently contributing to this sadistic cycle. Because many kids who are forced to work witness abuse, if not experience it themselves, they are bound to grow into violent men and women themselves, mostly as a means to get back to their society for treating them so inhumanly. Also, their labor does not help the economy as much as one might want to believe: their pay is not good much of the time, and because they are often illiterate, they do not have as much to offer to society as literate children and adults do. If these kids were enrolled in school while being used as workers, at least they would be able to transform into literate workers in the future and contribute to their nation’s economy by using their skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, again, since schooling requires money – even if public, as books do not come for free – and these families are poor, they have no choice but to use their children as breadwinners. Any laws passed against their labor, again, will remain ineffective unless the government comes up with a better plan of how to eradicate the nation of making its children work.

Having analyzed the problem is almost futile unless doing so can help us find some solutions. There must be some remedies to alleviate the pain that child labor implants on our society. There must be a way for us to discourage families from pushing their children into the railroad tracks of child labor. One way might be to encourage more women to join the workforce, regardless of their wealth status, as it will lessen the load of work on children. In families where mothers are uneducated and kept at home by the justification that they are needed at home in order to raise children, we must ask ourselves what kind of children it is that we are attempting to raise, especially if they work. We can also help by raising further awareness of this problem and by studying it, doing research on it, and sharing our results with others. We should take a realistic approach to purging our society of children workers, and what better techniques than starting with acknowledging and understanding its occurrence?

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