Friday, June 15, 2012
Pakistan: Churches and Ministries Struggling to Stamp out Child Labor
By Ashfaq Fateh
Special to ASSIST News Service
TOBA TEK SINGH, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Child labor is blight on Pakistan and now I can revealed that churches and ministries are struggling to help stamp it out.
ASSIST News Service-Pakistan has conducted an investigation into the issue of child labor and its effects on Christian children, families and the Church for its readers, and we are also taking this opportunity to highlight some of the steps taken by Church groups and Christian ministries to end child labor and challenges.
According to the Society for the Protection and Rights of Child (SPARC), “Ten million children are involved in child labor across Pakistan.”
And the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says, “Child labor remains a prevalent social issue in Pakistan. Economic conditions force many Pakistani youth to take up employment in their childhood years.”
In both areas, the percentage of girls working in manufacturing and services is higher than that of boys.
ANS spoke to Miss Shazia Razzaq of Doulos International-Pakistan, a Christian group empowering Christians in Pakistan to throw a light on child labor and how it affects Christian children and families.
Miss Razzaq said, “Christians in Pakistan make up some 1.5 percent of the total population and those living in the rural areas work mainly as peasant laborers. Their working hours, duties and wages are not fixed, and there is no legislation to protect the rights of these peasant laborers and also there is a lack of good governance which leads to a series of miseries to these Christian families and their children.”
She went on to say that “Christian workers, who are generally considered weak and speechless, are treated badly, and another group, Doulos International, has come across a number of stories from Christians in rural areas on how the landlords forced the father to take his children from out of school so they can work on their farms and to look after the animals.”
“A Christian girl child is often forced to work at the farmer’s home where she cleans the house, clothes and also lends a hand to the women. To make matters rose, these children are sometimes given corporal punishment if they do not work according to the wishes of farmer or their family members,” she said.
She referred, in various cases, these young girls have been sexually abused, but when these crimes are reported to the local police, victim families are trapped in “false cases.”
She added that Christian families face immense problems like, illiteracy, early marriages, deaths at an early age, sickness, malnutrition, disability, and no time for Bible studies or to attend church.
“Working under hazardous conditions make children prey of various diseases,” she said.
Miss Razzaq went on to state, “Child labor is a curse and there is no plan with the government to eradicate child labor. Pakistan’s total population is 180 million. Ten millions are trapped in the vicious circle of child labor and with every passing year, more and more children are adding in labor force. Due to early marriages, child growth rate is also increasing. Christians marry their daughters at early age with the fear not be abducted, raped or forced to be converted to Islam.”
“A large number of poor Christian families in rural areas work in Municipal administration’s sanitation and solid waste management department,” he said. “Their work starts early usually at dawn, and they clean the streets, roads and drainages/manholes in all corners of the rural areas.
“Since Municipal administrations authorities do not provide safety tools to prevent from dust, dirt, or garbage, many Christian workers are forced to send their children to work in place of them,” he added.
Pastor Gill went on to say, “Here at World Christ Ministries, we have noted sending of children to clean roads and streets are increasing. It has been discovered that children are sent by their parents to avoid their own termination from the service. The reason is, if a sick worker applies for leave, he/she will be retired from the service on medical grounds.”
He then shared the following story: “Saleem Masih was a student of class seven when he was 12 years old. His father lost his eyes in an accident and this was a disaster as the father was the only bread winner for the family. Saleem’s four brothers and sisters were also studying in school. They were award that in case of his father’s retirement, they may lose a good salary which could make their life at high risk. So, Saleem decided to leave his school and work in place of his father. His father was not sent on forced retirement and remained at home and Saleem went to work. Saleem has been working for the last ten years and has now been hit with tuberculosis and asthma.”
Pastor Gill continued, “Besides Municipal administration work, Christian children also clean shopping malls, private offices, vegetable markets and factories in urban areas. One of the reasons for child labor is that the children do not demand fair wages, and they get ready to work on extremely low wages. These children also do not complain against long working hours and low wages. Therefore, employers prefer hiring the services of them.”
While talking to ANS, he said, “Ninety percent of the brick kiln workers are Christians in Pakistan. Bonded labor and the sale of brick kiln workers and their children to other brick kiln owners are common stories and are available in plenty on the Internet.”
He regrettably told ANS, “Violence and the raping of girls and mothers have sadly become routine. Brick kiln workers are not paid government notified rates therefore each family tries to take their children with them to work so they may get enough to eat for twice a day. There is no social security for these workers. False cases are registered against the brick kiln workers when they dare to speak out against the violations of their rights or knock the door of courts for justice. Education for the children of brick kiln workers is a dream.”
Pastor Johnson Gill then stated, “Poor Christians in urban areas send their children to learn the skills of automobiles to add income in running the kitchen for the family. The children are badly tortured and abused. There are no regular schools of trainings, children learn in workshops and centers. The owners do not teach the skills to children for years in a bid to use maximum free of cost labor. Thus, Christian children remained vulnerable and deprived from the skills.”
We also talked with Ms. Rafia Salomi, a women’s rights activist who has been working since 1998 to “uplift laborers” in rural and urban areas.
She criticized public representatives, saying, “Public Representatives make big promises during election campaigns to eradicate child labor and start vocational centers, but once they get into power, they get addicted to it and forget its masses. Unfortunately, Christian voters have no value or priority in development schemes.”
Ms. Salomi went on to say, “I have often noted in my fields visits that many young illiterate Christian girls remain at home. If skill transformation centers could be set up and Christian girls are encouraged to learn the skills and also provided small loans on soft conditions, they will gain confidence and will consider them a useful citizens. This way their dependency on males will be decreased.”
She added, “There is a proverb, which says: ‘It is never too late to come.’ There are various things which can be done to eradicate child labor. Income generation programs can be started which will help Christian families to get a proper income and send their children to schools, colleges etc. Unless education is provided to Christian children, change will be difficult.”
Ms. Nosheen Majid a volunteer of YHWH Kids House-Pakistan expressed her grave concerns over the deteriorating situation of Christian girls working in domestic labor.
She told ANS, “Poor Christian families are forced to send their girls as domestic workers. Unlike the other child labor force, domestic girl child’s issues are not highlighted or noticed by media or social activists. The reason for this is that girl children work in homes behind boundary walls. They are the worst hit segment of child labor. Organized heinous crimes have been reported in past couple of years,” she revealed.
“For instance, in Lahore during 2010, a Christian girl child Shazia Bashir was badly tortured and killed by her employer who was an advocate and former President of District Bar Council. Poor girls like her work day and night on extremely low wages for 12 to 15 hours. They are inadequately paid -- it is about $32.00USD for a month. The government has fixed minimum wages of workers $98.00USD a month for eight hours duty in a day despite half day on Friday and full day leave on Sunday.”
She added that YHWH Kids House Pakistan is planning to “contribute its share to end child labor.”
Tariq Mehmood, an award winning labor and tireless human rights Muslim activist, was attacked ten times and twice charged with false cases, after highlighted cases, but fortunately he was declared innocent by the courts. However, he has been warned by extremists groups to stop supporting for the rights of Christian laborers and their children.
Mr. Mehmood, who has been regularly featured in our ANS stories from Pakistan, for his battles against the rights of Christians in Pakistan, then spoke out on the child labor issue.
“I have been working for the laborers for the last 12 years and struggling to improve the condition of Christian and Muslim laborers, however, Christians are the most vulnerable,” he said. “Over the course of time, kidnapped Christian children, boys and girls, have been recovered and. Christian children who were forced into child labor were released with the help of the labor department.
“Criminals who are involved in child labor have bribed the concerned authorities to remain silent on the violations of child labor. To my knowledge, Christian children are forced to work under extreme conditions.”
Tariq Mehmood appealed to the international community to help him to launch an advocacy campaign to “end child labor among Christian families.”
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