South Asia’s efforts to tackle child labor collide with reality

Six-year-old Litu looks for clothing customers in Dhaka. Child labor is a hidden issue in the region. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019
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South Asia’s efforts to tackle child labor collide with reality

  • Many families in India and Pakistan depend on their working children for their livelihood
  • Most child laborers are exposed to additional risks due to their work in the informal sector

DELHI/KARACHI: In India, it is illegal to hire children under the age of 14 for any kind of work. Adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 cannot be employed in any hazardous occupations.
Yet, 17 years after the International Labor Organization (ILO) designated June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labor, stringent laws are still colliding with a grim economic reality. Take the case of 13-year-old Pawan, who lives in a New Delhi suburb. His workday begins at seven in the morning and ends 13 hours later, with a one-hour lunch break that he often has to skip.
This has been Pawan’s daily routine since he dropped out of school one year ago due to financial difficulties at home. His daily earnings, roughly 150 rupees ($2), supplement those of his father. Their combined income supports a family of six.
“If I didn’t work, it would be difficult to meet our family’s expenses,” Pawan told Arab News.
“With the situation at home, I cannot think of going to school. I have to work.”
Children frequently have to be rescued from the clutches of dodgy business enterprises. Manoj, 14, was working in a confectionery shop when he was rescued by activists of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), or Movement to Save Childhood.
Since the 1980s, BBA has rescued almost 100,000 children from factories and businesses that had employed them in violation of India’s labor laws.
The organization’s work has been recognized through a string of national and international awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize shared between founder Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai.
“Child labor is the cause of poverty and illiteracy, not the other way round,” Rakesh Senger, BBA’s director, told Arab News. “Over the years India has taken lots of steps to address the problem. As a result, the number of cases being reported has gone up.”
According to Senger, more than 1,100 cases were reported in 2017, a jump of 509 percent on the previous year.
Like its neighbor India, Pakistan is struggling to address problems associated with a 12.5 million-strong child workforce.
Most of these children are believed to work in the informal sector, where workers have limited access to labor welfare services, which exposes them to added health and social risks.
“The largest number are employed in agricultural activities, yet child labor in the sector is not addressed by the relevant legal framework,” said Salam Dharejo, a child rights activist.
To its credit, the government has launched a survey to ascertain the child labor population. The Federal Bureau of Statistics data for 2017-18 show that 3.22 percent of Pakistan’s labor force is comprised of boys and girls aged between 10 and 14.
In rural areas, child labor participation is as high as 4.18 percent, while the figure for urban centers is 1.4 percent.
The number of children out of school, 25 million, is also alarming for a country that has enacted laws but failed to fully enforce them.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s efforts to discourage the use of child labor have been recognized internationally. The country has cut child labor by almost a third, according to Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report 2019.
At the same time, many NGOs are working to educate and train children who have dropped out of school because of poverty.
“We are running community schools and training centers where mostly child labor are employed by different sectors,” Rana Asif Habib, president of the Initiator Human Development Foundation, told Arab News. These include a training school in Lyari, a poor neighborhood in Karachi.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 9 min 52 sec ago
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”