Child Labour in Pakistan

This article is based on a press release from Save the Children.

The problem

New research shows child labour in parts of Pakistan has risen by up to a third in the aftermath of last year’s floods, according to a report by Save the Children.

Children are being sent out to work in hazardous environments such as factories and garages because their parents can no longer make a living. The local economy has collapsed due to the massive destruction caused by the floods and the education system has been massively weakened, with just under a half of parents reporting that there are no teachers in their children’s schools.

Save the Children surveyed over 2,300 households in the three hardest-hit provinces for its report, Pakistan: One Year On. It shows families have seen their incomes plummet by up to 70% and on average a third of households have been unable to rebuild their homes.

Many of the 10 million children are struggling to survive as a result of the disaster: the report shows that in some flood-affected areas 23% of children are acutely malnourished.

Nearly half of parents surveyed reported that their children were suffering phobias, nightmares and other signs of psychological trauma and in one district of Punjab one in ten families reported their children had turned to hashish or glue to cope with their feelings.

Save the Children’s response

David Wright, Save the Children country director in Pakistan, said,

“A year on from the floods and many of the children caught up in the disaster are struggling to survive. This is an ongoing nightmare for many of them. We need to get them out of work and back at school.”

Save the Children launched its biggest ever emergency response in Pakistan, and over the last year its aid has reached 4 million people, 1.8 million of them children. It has treated 25,000 children for malnutrition. However the charity said that despite the size of its response, the scale of the flooding in Pakistan meant there was still a huge amount of work to be done.

David Wright said, “This has been our biggest ever emergency response to a disaster. The public’s money has enabled us to help over 4 million people. But if the people hit by the Pakistan floods are to make a full recovery, there needs to be a concerted effort from both the government of Pakistan and the international community to reduce hunger, help people rebuild their lives and work on long-term economic recovery.”

Our comment

In Western Europe we are worried about the long-term effects of the recession: how soon will we be back to prosperity? Quite a number of people have been hit by redundancies and reduced income, but the impact is nothing like the long-term after-effects of the floods in Pakistan, where the whole economy has been affected and, as Save the Children report, children are malnourished, lacking education and being forced into employment – an understandable response to the need to survive against the odds. All this after the media attention has moved on to East Africa, Norway and other crisis points.

Clearly, what is required is a sustainable long-term plan on a large scale. A year ago we contacted the Pakistan High Commission and our government and suggested that the genuine concern expressed in the UK at the time of the floods should be translated into long-term action by arranging town-twinning and village-twinning on a large scale. If every community in the UK were matched with a comparable flood-hit community in Pakistan, we argued, links could be built up where people in the UK could appreciate the real impact of the floods on their twinned community, and could also see the effects of any help they could give. We still think this is a good idea.

We had no reply from the High Commission and an anodyne brush-off from the government, suggesting we made the arrangements ourselves. But the scale of the disaster requires the scale of response which needs a government-level boost. We still think it would be a good idea, even if attention is now diverted elsewhere. What do you think?

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