Lahore (Fides Service) - “To eliminate the tragedy of child labour, poverty must be eliminated and families must be enabled to live a life of dignity” said Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana of Lahore and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan.
“Child labour is a serious problem in many parts of the country. It is caused mainly by poverty. Many families particularly in rural areas and city slums are so poor that they cannot afford pay school fees, and what is more they have to rely on their children as a source of income. As soon as the children are 8 or 9 years old, instead of being sent to school they are sent to work, and they not only miss out on their childhood, they miss their education too and their future is uncertain”.
Archbishop Saldanha illustrates the commitment of the Catholic community in Pakistan at the level of increasing awareness and direct assistance: “The local Church in Pakistan has always worked to eliminate child labour. We organise protests and other initiatives to denounce child abuse. The Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission made a survey and published a report on child labour which roused attention of public opinion”.
“In some areas, for example in Lahore diocese, we provide free afternoon schooling for children forced to work in the morning to give them a chance to study and build a future. Over the past few years, thanks to international pressure, the number of children abused in labour in the carpet industry has decreased. But many of our children are still exploited by the brick making industry”.
Fides spoke with Mrs Tammy Ann Gaskins, an American women Christian Welfare Society delegate in Pakistan, an organisation which works to eliminate child labour.
Mrs Gaskins said “Children used in carpet and brick-making industries work like slaves seven and eight hours a day, five or six days a week for barely 200 Rupee a months. More than 80% of the child workers have never learned to read or write and only 8-9% go to school. For most rural communities instruction for children is not very important. Some children are sent to work at the young age of 5. By the time they are 10 they are very efficient and productive workers”.
“Our organisation tries to raise the standard of living of the families, often living in dire poverty without a proper home or assistance of any kind. We have asked the Pakistan government to take stronger measures to stop child labour”.
Ms Gaskins says opinions differ with regard to figures on child labour. “According to UNICEF they are anywhere between 150,000 to 500,000, or even one million. I will never forget the story of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistan boy who became a symbol for child workers. For years Iqbal worked long hard hours like a slave for a carpet maker in Punjab and was eventually rescued by an Association. Not long afterwards perhaps in an act of retaliation, Iqbal was killed at the age of 12 on 16 April 1995. That date was chosen to be the annual day against Child Labour”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/3/2004 lines 48 words 534)