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I. Overview

Although most Pakistani children work in the agricultural sector, a large number of children work in urban centers weaving carpets, manufacturing surgical instruments, and producing sporting goods for export. There are allegations of children working in other industries including leather, footwear,1 and mining. Further research is required as the connection between child labor in these industries and the importation of such items to the United States is not clear.

Data on the Pakistan labor force and child labor is unreliable. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that child labor has assumed massive proportions in Pakistan. The actual total number of working children in Pakistan is probably somewhere between 2 and 19 million.2

Millions of children in Pakistan suffer under a system of bonded labor. The bonded labor system consists of giving advances of "peshgi" (bonded money) to a person. As long as all or part of the peshgi debt remains outstanding, the debtor/worker is bound to the creditor/employer. In case of sickness or death, the family of the individual is responsible for the debt, which often passes down from generation to generation. In the case of children, the peshgi is paid to a parent or guardian, who then provides the child to work off the debt.

Bonded labor has long been a feature in brick kilns, carpet industries, agriculture, fisheries, stone/brick crushing, shoe-making, power looms, and refuse sorting.3 The Bonded Labor Liberation Front estimates that eight million children are bonded in Pakistan.4 Half a million are allegedly bonded in the carpet industry alone. Some of these children reportedly come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma.5

In September 1988, the Pakistan Supreme Court, in a well-publicized case against brick kiln owners, legally abolished the "peshgi" (bonded) system. This Supreme Court decision, however, stopped short of forgiving past debts.6 The Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act of 1992 abolished and made illegal bonded labor in Pakistan, and cancelled all obligations of bonded laborers to their employers.

II. Child Labor in Export Industries


The most widely recognized export product from Pakistan using child labor is carpets. In a meeting with an official of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Pakistan Secretary of Labor maintained that carpet weaving is the only major export industry employing children. The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 concurs.7

In 1993, the Provincial Labor Departments compiled statistics on child labor in nine industries.8 The study found that in carpet industries, 2,463 children under 14 years of age were found, and another 4,246 were between 14 and 17 years old. A 1992 UNICEF-Punjab report asserted that according to conservative estimates, one million out of 1.5 million workers in the carpet industry in Pakistan were children.9 A separate 1992 UNICEF/Government of Pakistan study reported that 90 percent of the one million workers in the carpet industry are children, many of whom began working in the industry before 10 years of age.10

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that weaving thrives in self-contained homesteads, where labor is cheap and readily available. The Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PCMEA) describes the Pakistani carpet industry as follows:

The Pakistan carpet industry is primarily a cottage-based industry employing around 1.5 million people, with heavy concentration in Punjab and Sind provinces. Of this an estimated 8 percent are children of which the major portion is comprised of family unit labor. Only 10 percent of the looms are in factories of 10-30 looms each, while 90% of the weaving is based in village homes where the amount of work done is by choice of the family unit and beyond the manufacturers and contractors control.11

Despite legal limitations, child labor is widespread in the carpet industry, where much production comes from the family-run cottage industry.12 The Government of Pakistan is fully aware of the existence of child labor in the carpet industry. In March 1992, the Center for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment, within the Labor Department of the Government of Punjab, in conjunction with UNICEF, reported that over 80 percent of the carpet weavers in Punjab are children under 15, including 30% under 10.13

Child weavers suffer work-related injuries and illnesses, such as injuries due to sharp instruments, respiratory tract infections, and body aches. They also remain uneducated, 42 percent never having attended school and 58 percent having dropped out.14

In May 1994, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) investigated five carpet factories in the Lahore area and found child labor in four of them. None of these factories was a "parent-child" operation. The AAFLI report found that carpet exporters did not deny the existence of child labor in the carpet industry and acknowledged that the bonded labor system or "peshgi" is regularly practiced, even though it violates the 1992 Bonded Labor Abolition Act.15

The 1992 UNICEF-Punjab report details the conditions of child labor in the carpet weaving industry in Punjab. The study surveyed 10 villages and interviewed 175 children in carpet weaving centers in Punjab. It concluded that carpet weaving is done mostly by children.16 Eighty-three percent of the survey were male children, but access to predominantly female carpet weaving centers was restricted.17 The study found the earnings depended on the number of knots per square foot.18 Earnings were low and some children in "training" status did not earn anything. The maximum wage was 40 rupees (approximately $1.50) per day.19 The majority of the children worked between 9 and 10 hours per day with a one hour break. They ate three meals a day, consisting of bread/rice, dal (lentils) or vegetables.20 Fifty-one percent of the children expressed dissatisfaction with their jobs. Ninety-four percent of the children suffered one or more work-related illness or injuries, which included fingertip and hand injuries due to handling sharp knives, as well as physical abuse.21 Finally, the report states that contrary to expectation, conditions of work for children weaving at homes were found to be no better and often even more detrimental to the child's welfare than for those working in private workshops. Parents tended to keep their children at the loom for longer hours and the working environment at home was on the whole not as well ventilated nor adequately lit.22

Carpet manufacturers often avoid labor regulations by subcontracting to "thekedars," or middlemen, who control several looms set up in the weavers homes scattered throughout the countryside.23 Since factories employing less than 10 workers are not covered by most labor laws, large carpet enterprises have divided up into smaller units.24

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that work units in rural areas have more child labor than urban areas. In these village units, the children are mostly girls, some only six or seven years old; boys are barely eight. Working conditions are poor, lighting and ventilation inadequate, hygienic conditions substandard, and the work area hot and humid. Workers complain of coughs and sickness. The workers usually work 10-hour days, with no holidays and are paid on a piece-rate basis. Child workers pay is as low as 10 rupees (approximately 37 cents) per day; teenagers, however, earned 20-30 rupees (74 cents to $1.13) per day, and can even get 50 to 75 rupees ($1.87 to $2.81) per day for superior quality carpets.

UNICEF describes the work as painful and unhealthy; children sit in cramped positions for long periods of time, breathing wool dust, working under poor lighting conditions, straining their eyes and working with chemical dyes. The children also develop spinal deformities.25

Human Rights Watch/Asia notes many of the children in the carpet industry are bonded.26 In some situations, parents force the children to work. In other situations, children are separated from their families and kept in small buildings which house several carpet looms. Human Rights Watch/Asia interviewed several children in such factories who were beaten frequently and rarely allowed to return home. It was noted that if the children attempted to escape they were forcibly returned to the looms with the help of the local police.27

Surgical Instruments

The United States imports surgical instruments from Pakistan, especially from the Sialkot area.28 Although there are no comprehensive studies on child labor in the production of surgical instruments for export, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation claims that children between the ages of 10 and 15 years spend eight hours a day grinding and sanding surgical instruments.29 The Government of Pakistan's chart on child labor compiled by the provincial governments in 1993 shows 3,670 children under 17 working in this industry. The South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude also maintains that there are thousands of children working in this industry.30

Sporting Goods

According to the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, children are working in the sporting goods industry in Sialkot and adjoining towns and villages. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission found no child labor in factories that supply international sporting goods firms, but children have been found stitching soccer balls for export in cottage-level family units.31 Children constitute approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of the work force in this sector, and range in age from 12 to 15 years. They work five to six hours per day. The wages are either fixed at 800-900 rupees per month (approximately $30-33) or on a piece-work basis at 20 rupees (approximately 75 cents) per football). A child can usually stitch three footballs (soccer balls) a day.32

III. Laws of Pakistan

A. National Child Labor Laws

In Pakistan, a "child" is defined as a person younger than fifteen.33 The legal minimum age for employment is 14 for shops and commerce, industry, and work at sea, and 15 for mines and on railways.34 The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan prohibits slavery, forced labor, the trafficking in human beings, and employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or any hazardous employment.

The Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act declares all customs, traditions, practices, contracts or agreements concerning bonded labor, whether entered into or in operation before or after the effective date of the legislation, void and inoperative. Any obligations on the part of the bonded laborer to repay any bonded debt were cancelled and no suit could be brought for the recovery of such a debt. Special provisions in this Act provide for setting up of Vigilance Committees to advise the district administration on matters relating to the effective implementation of freed bonded laborers, application of the law, and providing the bonded laborers with necessary assistance. The penalties for violating this law are imprisonment from two to five years and/or a fine of 50,000 rupees. According to the U.S. Department of State, little progress was made in 1993 in the industries employing bonded laborers.35

The Employment of Children Act 1991 prohibits the employment of children in certain occupations and regulates their conditions of work. No child is allowed to work over-time or during the night.36

An earlier law prohibited the employment of children in the following industries: bidi (cigarette) making; carpet making; cement manufacturing (including bagging of cement); cloth dyeing, printing, and weaving; manufacturing of matches, explosives, and fireworks; mica cutting and splitting; shellac manufacture; soap manufacture; tanning; and wood cleaning. The 1991 law added the following industries: shoe-making, leather, power looms, fishing, glass, garments, precious stones, metal and wood handicrafts, furniture, and paper.

Enforcement of child labor laws in Pakistan is hampered by the lack of manpower and expertise in the Department of Labor and a general acceptance of child labor, according to Professor Omar Noman.37 Pakistan has appointed a Task Force for Labor to consider improving enforcement mechanisms and increasing penalties.38 It also directed provincial governments to provide data on the number of cases prosecuted and fines imposed under existing child labor and bonded labor laws.39 However, according to the Government of Pakistan, only one case of bonded labor was found in the Punjab province.40 A National Committee on the Rights of the Child has been established within the federal government specifically to monitor enforcement and protection issues related to child workers.41

The Government of Pakistan asserts that labor inspectors are empowered to carry out regular visits to all employment places covered under the Employment of Children Act 1991 to check on their compliance with the law. Violators are to be prosecuted.42 To date, the Act remains essentially unimplemented and does little to promote much needed enforcement mechanisms.43

B. Education Laws

The Constitution of Pakistan, in Articles 37 (b) & (c), declares public policy to:

remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period [and to] make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.44

Among Asian countries, Pakistan ranks 27 out of 28 countries in its literacy rate of 26.2 percent.45 Despite a 1962 law requiring each province to designate areas where primary education is compulsory, none of the provinces have complied. The Government of Pakistan recently noted, however, that the Punjab government has decided to provide compulsory primary education free of cost to every child.46

According to the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, schools are available in most localities, but they have very limited staff, space, and resources.47 Government figures show that less than 65 percent of children between five and nine attend primary school, and more than 50 percent of those drop out before finishing their primary education. Many observers believe that even these figures are optimistic.

C. International Conventions

Pakistan is a party to ILO Convention No. 59 Concerning Minimum Age for Employment in Industry and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Pakistan has not ratified ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age for Employment.48

IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor

In its 1993 Manifesto, the Pakistan People's Party stated that contract labor, bonded labor, and child labor will be abolished.49 Pakistan claims to have taken concrete steps to protect the rights of the child and to eliminate child labor in all sectors of the economy, including the carpet industry.50 Secretary of Labor, Sultan Hameed, maintains that the present government has demonstrated the "political will at the highest level" to address the issue. He also stated that the federal government held a meeting with the provincial governments and has asked for periodic progress reports from the provinces on prosecutions and convictions of child labor violations. According to the Labor Secretary, the Labor and Commerce ministries are considering setting up an agency to certify that products manufactured for export are not made by child labor. The government would like to identify a foreign non-governmental organization to act as the certifying authority to lend more credibility to the process.51 Recently, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Labor Organization to cooperate in establishing a national program on child labor. It has also worked with UNICEF in preparing studies and hosting a conference on child labor.

In other efforts to address the problem of child labor, the Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers & Exporters Association (PCMEA) has suggested the formation of a Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor (FECL), comprised of members from the PCMEA, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and human rights organizations. The objective would be to coordinate efforts to erase all illegal and exploitative forms of child labor52 by setting up individual welfare projects which would provide primary education, basic medical facilities, conduct surveys, and issue labels certifying that a carpet was free of illegal child labor.

UNICEF has conducted several studies in Pakistan on child labor and publicizes the hazards of child labor in many public settings. The Bonded Labor Liberation Front promotes education for child workers through their program, "Struggle Against Slavery Through Education." It has set up 122 small schools with 5000 freed bonded children between 6 and 12 years. The BLLF plans to have 200 schools by the end of 1994.

1 The International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers Federation alleges that children 10 and 11 years old are sick and deformed from years of sniffing glue in a shoe factory. "Action to End Child Labor Urged," International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation Newsletter, Issue No. 1 (1994).

2 The Pakistan Labor Force Survey (1990-1991) put the number of child workers in the age group 10 to 14 at two million. The Pakistan Institute of Development Economics maintains that two million is a gross underestimate because a) of serious under-reporting due to the fact that child labor is illegal, and b) working children below 10 years are not included. A. R. Kemal, Child Labor in Pakistan (Pakistan: UNICEF-PIDE, 1994) 5-6 [hereinafter Kemal]. A 1990 UNICEF study estimated the total number of children at not less than 8 million. Pakistan's Secretary of Labor, Mr. Sultan Hameed, stated that the UNICEF figure was "on the high side," but appeared to accept the figure as being in the general range. Interview with Sultan Hameed, Pakistan Secretary of Labor, by Department of Labor official (May 19, 1994).

Economists at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics estimate there are 19 million working children, 7 million below the age of ten, and 12 million between 10 and 14 years old. Mazam Mahmood, Muhammad Javaid Khan Tariq, and Ajmal Baig, Why children do not go to school in Pakistan (Pakistan Institute of Development Economics - 10th Annual General Meeting, April 2-5, 1994) 8-9. The American Embassy-Islamabad, questioned the 19 million figure given the fact that the total labor force in Pakistan is 33 million (or 29.8 million according to the World Factbook). The Embassy observed that the 19 million figure "seems high unless the number of workers in the labor force is widely underestimated." Unclassified memorandum from American Embassy-Islamabad to International Child Labor Study (June 1, 1994).

3 "Pakistan: Bonded Labor Abolition Act Passed At last," Social and Labor Bulletin (April 1992) 443 [on file].

4 "The Battle Goes On," Child Workers in Asia, vol. 8, no. 4; vol. 9, no. 1 (October-December, 1992, and January-March 1993) 39.

5 Ehsan Ullah Khan, Child Labour and Bonded Labour in Pakistan: A Country Report, (Bonded Labor Liberation Front, n.d.) [on file].

6 Discover the Working Child: The Situation of Child Labour in Pakistan 1990 (Government of Pakistan and UNICEF, 1991) 17 [hereinafter Discover the Working Child].

7 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State, February 1994) 1386 [hereinafter Country Reports].

8 "Government of Pakistan's Replies to the Questions/Points Raised in the Non-Paper on GSP Worker Rights" [UNOFFICIAL DOCUMENT] released to the GSP Sub-Committee (April 11, 1994) [hereinafter Government of Pakistan's Reply to Non-Paper on GSP].

9 Child labor in the carpet weaving industry in Punjab (Punjab: UNICEF, 1992) 7 [hereinafter UNICEF Punjab Report].

10 Situation Analysis of Children & Women in Pakistan (UNICEF and Government of Pakistan, 1992) 84.

11 "A Study on Child Laborers in Pakistan Hand-Knotted Carpet Industry" Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PCMEA), included as attachment in "Replies to the Questions-Points Raised in the Non-Paper on GSP Worker Rights [unofficial document] (April 11, 1994) [on file] [hereinafter PCMEA Study].

12 Country Reports at 1386.

13 UNICEF Punjab Report at iv.

14 Country Reports at 1386. See also International Child Labor Hearing, U.S. Department of Labor (April 12, 1994)(Statement of Human Rights Watch/Asia) [hereinafter Testimony of Human Rights Watch/Asia].

15 A Report on Child Labor in Pakistan (Asian-American Free Labor Institute, June 1994) 5-6 [on file] [hereinafter 1994 AAFLI Pakistan Report].

16 UNICEF Punjab Report at 11.

17 Id. at 11.

18 Id. at 13.

19 Id. at 13.

20 Id. at 14.

21 Id. at 15-16.

22 Id. at iv.

23 Id. at 2. See also Discover the Working Child at 19.

24 Discover the Working Child at 19.

25 Discover the Working Child at 19.

26 Testimony of Human Rights Watch/Asia.

27 Id.

28 Search of Piers Imports database (Journal of Commerce, 1994) June 1994.

29 Wendy Cane, "Child Labor in the Production of Surgical Instruments in Pakistan," November 22, 1993 [unpublished manuscript] [on file].

30 Letter from South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude to International Child Labor Study (January 13, 1994) [on file].

31 Letter from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to the International Child Labor Study (May 3, 1994) [on file].

32 Letter from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to Defence for Children International (Geneva), April 19, 1994 (attachment to 5/3/94 letter from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to the International Child Labor Study) [on file].

33 UNICEF Punjab Report at 50. See 3a and 3b, Employment of Children Act 1938.

34 "Child Labor: Law and Practice," ILO Conditions of Work Digest, vol. 10, no. 1 (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1991).

35 Country Reports at 1385.

36 Kemal at 39.

37 International Child Labor Hearing, U.S. Department of Labor (April 12, 1994)(Statement of Professor Omar Noman, Oxford University) [hereinafter Testimony of Noman].

38 Government of Pakistan's Reply to the Non-Paper on GSP at 21.

39 The Government of Pakistan twice agreed to provide information to the Child Labor Study on the number of prosecutions and convictions carried out under the Bonded Labor Act and the Employment of Children Act. To date, no information has been received.

40 Government of Pakistan's Reply to the Non-Paper on GSP at 23.

41 International Child Labor Hearing, U.S. Department of Labor (April 12, 1994) (Statement of the Embassy of Pakistan).

42 Government of Pakistan's Reply to the Non-Paper on GSP at 18.

43 Country Reports at 1386.

44 Testimony of Noman.

45 "The Path to Freedom - BLLF Pakistan," in Child Workers in Asia, vol. 8, no. 4 & vol. 9, no. 1 (October-December 1992, and January-March 1993) 36.

46 Government of Pakistan's Reply to the Non-Paper on GSP at 19.

47 Country Reports at 1382.

48 Lists of Ratifications by Convention and by Country (as at December 1992) (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993).

49 Pakistan Peoples Party Manifesto 1993: Public-Private partnership: An Agenda for Change (Central Secretariat, PPP, Karachi-Pakistan, n.d.) [on file].

50 American Embassy-Islamabad unclassified telegram no. 5130, May 26, 1994; Interview with Pakistan Secretary of Labor Sultan Hameed by Department of Labor official (May 19, 1994).

51 American Embassy-Islamabad unclassified telegram no. 5130, May 26, 1994.

52 PCMEA Study at 4.