This World Day Against Child Labour, we think about the millions of children across Pakistan engaged in exploitative and dangerous work, and the many more who could be thrust out of school and into labour due to Covid-19.
We think about Zohra Shah, and how best to honour her memory. Should her employers, her aggressors be brought to justice swiftly? Absolutely. Will that solve the problem? Sadly, it will not. Honouring Zohra Shah means accepting that child labour, like other child protection issues in Pakistan, is complex and deeply entrenched in our society, economy and culture. Addressing the root causes of these problems requires sustained, long-term action on the part of the state and its people.
While the individual stories are gut-wrenching, we have to face with courage the underlying tragedies that allow for such incidents to occur. For instance, that Pakistan’s one and only National Child Labour survey was conducted in 1996, which means we don’t really know how many other Zohra Shahs or Iqbal Masihs there are. That it took 2.5 years from its enactment in Oct 2017 to establish the National Commission on the Rights of the Child. That when it comes to children’s domestic labour, the majority of us hesitate to take a decisive position, possibly because we have child workers in our own homes or in the homes of a loved one. That it is easier for us to blame the parents who send their children into employment, either for their ignorance or for their poverty, than it is to hold employers or the state accountable. That we have left advocacy for systemic reform to NGOs, rather than taking responsibility for political action as individuals.
At Teach For Pakistan, we recommit ourselves to providing our partner schools and communities the support to keep children safe, learning and growing to access a future of greater possibilities. We will strive harder to amplify the voices of working children so that their everyday experiences can shape our collective decisions. We will work alongside others who have long agitated for the state to provide every child with the protections and rights s/he deserves.