Implementation Problems to Child-Labour Laws in Pakistan


Noor Fatima and Salsabila Rashid

Child-labour is detrimental to the health of children. According to ILO, the term “child labour” is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.  It compromises the education of children, restricts their rights and limits their future opportunities. Although the Government of Pakistan has established laws and regulations related to child-labor, gaps exist in Pakistan to adequately protect children from engaging in labour.

The latest global estimates by ILO/UNICEF indicate that the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide in 2020. The report warns that 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour worldwide by the end of 2022 as a result of Covid-19 pandemic.According to a recent risk analysis report by Maplecroft, Pakistan is among the top 10 places where child labor is most prevalent.

Despite the minimum legal working-age being 15 years in Punjab and 14 years in the rest of the provinces, Balochistan has the highest child-labour reported at 6.13 percent, followed by KPK and Punjab at 5 percent and Sindh at 3.97 percent. The overall child-labour rate is at 4.9 percent in Pakistan where rural areas have a higher involvement of children than urban (Labour Force Survey, 2021). Based on the definition by Decent Work Country Profile (DWCP), children who work long hours (over 42 hours per week) are considered to be engaged in hazardous work. Between 2 and 3 per cent of children aged 10 to 14 were involved in hazardous work in the 2009–2018 period in Pakistan.

When it comes to combating child labour in the South-Asian region, Sri Lanka is a success story. According to the Bureau of International Labour Affairs, in 2020, Sri Lanka has made plausible efforts to reduce child labour. Although higher than many developed countries, its child-labour rates are far below than Pakistan. According to the Child Activity Survey (2016), in Sri Lanka, 2.3 per cent of children aged 5-17 years are engaged in some kind of economic activity. There is a stark comparison since the child labour in Pakistan (aged 10-14 years) was more than twice the rate of Sri Lanka in 2016. The report stated that in Sri Lanka, hazardous form of child labour, was as low as 0.9% in 2016 whereas in Pakistan the rates were as high as 3 percent in 2019. Although the laws prohibiting child-labour in Pakistan and Sri Lanka are similar, Pakistan lags comparatively far behind in its implementation. Interestingly, Sri Lanka’s child-labour laws have lenient penalties than Pakistan, yet Sri Lanka was able to bring down its child-labour rate to a great extent when compared to Pakistan.

Assessing the full extent of child labour in Pakistan is not currently possible since the Labour Force Survey only collects data on the labour force participation of persons over the age of 10 even though there are reported incidences on child work even lower than 10 years. There is no dedicated child labour survey that has been conducted in Pakistan since 1996. Therefore, the actual child-labour rate today would be even higher if the age cohort of 5-9 years is included. Pakistan’s first child labour survey in two decades is currently underway, by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The Government of Pakistan must establish sufficient laws to end police corruption, particularly the taking of bribes from suspected perpetrators to ignore alleged crimes; create a centralized repository of labor law enforcement data and a regular mechanism for reporting it to the federal government, and make the data publicly available; ensure that all factories/industries are registered, do not employ child labor, and fully compensate all workers and provide the funding necessary to adequately hire, train, equip, and cover the cost of transportation for inspectors to enforce child labor laws in all provinces.