Rs.50/- a day child labourer awaits miracle (Interview by Jawad Iqbal

Published in The Nation newspaper on 08-Feb-2016  : Haroon Siraj

Interview by Chairman IYF Dr. Jawad Iqbal from the witness child labourer

SWAT– Instead of going to school, Dawood has to go to auto-workshop to open it before the mechanic’s arrival early in the morning every day. Dawood is like many other children who cannot afford to go to school due to poverty and various other reasons. 11-years-old, Abu Dawood has the same desires and dreams like other common children but the cruel poverty forced his parents to send him to auto-workshop for earning bread and butter for his family.  Dawood wishes to be a doctor if he continues his studies.

He was not only tortured in his childhood but was also tolerating unethical statements from their senior mechanics whenever he committed a mistake. He works in a private automobile workshop in order to learn the techniques and methods of repairing cars. He belongs to Tahirabad town of Mingora city living in a two-room house with family on PKR 5000 (USD 50) rent.

Clad in dirty thin attire having marks of dirt on face, Dawood said “I refuse to my friends mostly on holiday when they plan to go outside for leisure due to financial constraints; I have four brothers and work 9 hours daily as a helper with my mentor (Mechanic) on Rs 50 per day wages, out of which I give 30 rupees at home for domestic expenditures with just 20 rupees left for my pocket money.” “Sometimes when my senior colleague Yasir slaps me when I do something wrong, I realize that school life is far better than working at auto-workshop”, he added.

Answering a question, he said “yes, I am willing to go to school if someone bears my admission fee and takes responsibility of my educational expenditures so that I can continue my education”, he said. Talking to The Nation, Sehar Khan, father of Dawood said, “Living life in today’s inflation and price hike is out of common man’s reach but they are still fighting to survive in harsh circumstances. I work as peon with a religious scholar on meagre 700 rupees daily wages as our expenses are far more than my earning.”

“Before deciding to send my child to workshop I asked him several times whether he wants to go to school or to work in automobile workshop he opted for the second option following which I sent him to workshop”, he admitted. Answering a question, he said, “I am waiting for a miracle if someone provides monthly stipend to my children, I will send them to school”, Khan stated. Another Hamza 13-years-old, working at a workshop said “I am eldest son of my parents having two younger brothers. Due to poverty, I quit my studies and started to learn how to fix damaged cars”, he added. “My father is a rickshaw driver. Getting free from workshop in the evening I drive rickshaw till late night to earn some extra money in order to give it to my father for domestic expenses, Hamza added.

“Every morning I came across my ex-classmates when they are going to school while I am heading towards auto-mobile workshop. I miss golden days of my life when I was a school kid”, he said.  According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) figures 3.3 million child labourers in the country while on the other hand many child right activists said that the figure has reached up to 3.6 million.When this correspondent contacted District Labour Department for official figures of child labour at Swat, interestingly they have no official data regarding the children who are working in auto mobile workshops.

Surprisingly District Labour Officer Sharif Ahmed said, “There is no child under the age of 14 years working in district Swat as child labourer”. When he was told that many children like Dawood and Hamza were working in different auto mobile workshops, he was speechless and said he will direct Labour Inspector to check it. Dr Jawad, Chairman Innovative Youth Forum said, “28 per cent children between the ages of 5 to 16 years were out of schools. Out of these 28 per cent, 70 per cent children have never entered the school.”

He said that in April 2015, 34664 children were enrolled in Swat schools in which 18456 kids left school due to poverty and lack of awareness”. In Mingora city 3670 kids were working in mechanical workshops, 670 kids are working in manufacturing industries and the reason behind it is poverty, non-conductive environment and lack of motivation, he added. He further said that there is no proper mode to engage these children in schools while in this connection Innovative youth Forum has engaged some child labourers in informal education, through which on every Sunday, around 160 children gathered in workshop and they have been motivated just to make them able to read and write.

“Due to child labour, 48 per cent children face sexual harassment, which is the major carrier for sexually transmitted diseases,” he said. “They also gets involved in negative activities like robbery, extortion, drug trafficking and militancy. Out of 19 suicide bombers, 7 were child labourers with no parenthood”, he said. Social activist Manzoor Kamal Khattak said, “We know that child labour is a serious crime in all over the world but in Pakistan child labour issue is looming large. There are two different reasons of child labour; one is poverty due to which father forces his child to work in auto-workshop and the second reason is that the child is sent outside to learn different types of labour skills like repairing auto-mobile, tyre shop, shoe polishing, etc., due to these two different reasons the child labour ratio has increased in Pakistan”, Kamal added.

He further added, “The provincial government should conduct child labour survey in the province, only then actual figures will be revealed and affective laws can be devised.” According to Deputy Education Officer Swat Zulfiqar ul Mulk, “We are facilitating children who couldn’t pay the education fees due to poverty. In such circumstance, the government not only provided free of cost education along with textbooks but also allocated funds to such government schools where poor and needy children were admitted, We are also providing medical fund in government schools. If a child needs medical assistance and falls in the criteria, we provide medical facility to him but all this is possible when someone reaches us and fulfils the prescribe criteria”, he added. It is pertinent to mention here that due to lack of awareness in the society, the uneducated and people living life below poverty line do not know about their fundamental rights due to which they are unable to take appropriate decision.