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World Day Against Child Labour: Pakistan to lose millions if it doesn’t abide by laws

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KARACHI: Child labour, for its strong opponents, may be a social issue, but failing to eliminate child labour also has an impact on Pakistan’s economy – and a severe one.

HunzaNews, June 12th, 2014.

A country like Pakistan, which continuously struggles to increase its exports, should now review its commitment to the elimination of child labour as it is now more directly linked with its exports.

“There is a growing realisation in Pakistan that the elimination of child labour and implementation of labour laws are now directly related to exports of the country,” said Punjab Labour Welfare Department Director General Syed Hasnat Javed.

Pakistan, like most other countries of the world, will be organising programmes on World Day Against Child Labour today. But on purely economic terms, this annual day should be different for Pakistan.

On January 1, 2014, Pakistan qualified for the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) Plus scheme in one of the biggest trading blocs of the world – the European Union (EU). Under this scheme, Pakistan can export most of its textile products to 28 EU nations at concessionary duty rates or duty free, making Pakistani products cheaper for European importers. The duty concessions under GSP Plus are for four years, that is, until the end of 2017.

After that, the EU will review the implementation of 27 international conventions relating to human rights, labour rights, environment and good governance in Pakistan to grant this trading facility for another seven years. If Pakistan fails to implement these conventions, it will lose these billions of dollars in trade concessions (Pakistan expects additional annual exports of around $1 billion after getting the GSP-plus status). Out of these 27 conventions, eight are related to labour laws with one specially related to the elimination of the worst form of child labour in the country.

The importance of implementing ILO conventions can easily be understood from one recent example. Walt Disney, the US entertainment giant, has recently stopped placing orders to Pakistan’s leading textile firms on the labour issues.

What is more embarrassing for the government is that the company was warning Pakistan for over eight months, but the relevant ministries did not take timely action. According to estimates, the US company’s decision will cause an annual loss of about $150-$200 million.

Leading textile industry officials believe that such cases may hurt Pakistan’s interest if other countries, or especially the EU, takes up such issues.

“Child labour and the implementation of labour laws according to ILO conventions are very important for Pakistan. We cannot overlook any of these interrelated issues,” said Javed when asked how child labour and other labour laws are linked with the country’s exports.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER) Senior Research Associate Zeenat Hisam told The Express Tribune that the situation of child labour has not improved over the years.

“However, one change has been that now parents and community members realise the importance of education, considering it essential for children’s better future,” she wrote in her study on District Tando Allahyar, Sindh, in late 2013.

According to Hisam, the rise in awareness about education is the single biggest change she noticed in her different studies in recent years, but because there are no schools, the children are allowed and made to work.

Concluding her study, she said, “Our assessment indicates that unless a two-pronged strategy — overhauling educational infrastructure and creating decent employment opportunities – is adopted for short and long term interventions, the malaise of child labour will persist,”

Meanwhile, Sagheer Bukhari, who looks after child labour issues at ILO’s Country Office for Pakistan in Islamabad, said the country had progressed remarkably in the last two decades. “But we also realise that this is a big issue and it will take a long time to resolve.”

Express Tribune

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