Being the most vulnerable segment of society, anywhere in the world, children are always the first ones to be harmed and the last ones to be heard.
This sad fact was acknowledged in the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Children (UNGASS), in May 2002. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, acknowledged that the world has not been able to fulfil the commitments made in the World Summit for Children in 1990.
About 300 children from all over the world were given an opportunity to participate I the children’s forum, held on this landmark event. Nearly 70 heads of states also attended the session.
Though this event provided a chance to the children from all over the world to be in limelight for the few days, like the World Summit on Children (WSC) held in 1990, the action plan sets forth ambitious goals without determining means to get there. Most of the recommendations made in the WSC have not been implemented even after 12 years, mainly because of cruel economic environment. After the WSC, member countries prepared End of Decade reports and a Draft Outcome document was compiled last year, which was pivotal in the deliberations that took place during the Special Session.
The agreed Plan of Action envisaged in the outcome document describes,
“A world fit for children is one in which all children get the best possible start in life; have access to quality basic education, including primary education that is compulsory and available free to all; and that all children, including adolescents have ample opportunity to develop their individual capacities in a safe and supportive environment. We will promote the physical, psychological, social and spiritual, emotional, cognitive and cultural development of children as a matter of national and global priorities”.
This is for sure the situation which all of us want for our children. But the ground realities are different. In particularly developing countries, international pressures combined with economic circumstances and social conditions are undermining the crucial role of governments, society and parents to ensure those children grown up in a safe, stable and nurturing environment.
Children need food, shelter, education, health and physical and emotional security not only for their survival, but also for their development. In contrast, for a majority of children, free health and education services along with food and shelter still are a luxury. The 1990s was a decade of great promises but modest achievements for the children of the world. But critical challenges remained unmet, mainly because the resources that were promised at international and national levels did not materialize. According to UNICEF, today there are 600 million children who live in poverty, which is the root cause of the insecurity and is threatening the development of children around the world. At the same time, ten million children die each year, deaths, most of which can be prevented.
Less than five mortality rate has increased in 14 countries and remained unchanged in 11 countries, mainly inSouth Asiaand Sub-Saharan Africa. Diarrhoea, being one of the most widespread causes of children’s death while the fatal polio, is still endemic in 20 countries of the world. At the same time, 150 million children in this world suffer from malnutrition. InPakistan, one in three children, under five years of age, is malnourished which contributes to childhood deaths and reduces the physical and mental capacities of children. Globally, 100 million children, don’t go to school 60 percent of them girls.
Similarly as a result of armed conflicts and foreign occupations, children are subjected to unnatural deaths, injuries and displacement. In 1990s 2 million children died as a result of armed conflict. Six million were permanently disabled or seriously injured and 20 million were displaced or became refugees. The recommendations, made in Outcome report, to find an end to all this suffering, seeks help of the international economic and security situation, which is unrealistic.
Pakistan’s End of the Decade report has stated economic and resource constraints and regional security environment among the foremost constraints.Pakistan, which is still striving to achieve a threshold of development and economic strength, faces ups and downs in its economy. The debt burden assumed alarming proportions with the external and domestic debt reaching 97.5% of country’s GDP. At the same time, the growth rate dipped as low as 1.7% in 1997.
Repeated devaluation in the rupee adversely affected the amount devoted to development projects. Then there were economic sanctions, which targetedPakistanin the developed world. Under such conditions how a country likePakistancould be expected to mobilize its resource? In the education sector, allocations are a mere 2 % of the GDP even less than minimum of 4% prescribed by UNESCO. How can idea of a free universal primary education of good quality be expected?
Similar conditions can be found in other countries also. And the economic environment is going deteriorate even further in wake of changing trends in the world like globalization and WTO. The NGO ‘Save the Children’ fund followed the EU’s stance on WTO and showed its concern in the report, “The Wrong Model: GAT, trade liberalization and children’s right to health”. The report, with the help of leaked documents of European Commission’s secret WTO negotiations, has proved that corporate interests inEuropeare being given priority over the health needs of children and their families. Even the European Commission has publicly stated that it sees WTO as “first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business” whereas international trade negotiations should be first and foremost an instrument to promote development, poverty reduction, and a better future for the people of world.
If international bodies and forums aim to achieve realistic and applicable solutions to the problems of children, then they will have to be seen in the perspective of economic realities of the poor countries. None of the parents and children wants to opt for child labor if severe economic realities do not force them to do so. The UN needs to draw commitments from the developed world. International policies related to economy must not force the already crushed economies of the developing countries to face a situation where the vulnerable segments of population become victim of harsh realities, which are beyond their control.
Both the governments and international institutions must make mandatory commitments for the betterment of children. (Jalazai, 2004)
Child Rights and Child Labor Global Negligence
Child is a potential man and has all the qualities of developing flowering and fructifying. Physically he is a man in miniature, mentally he is inquisitive and receptive, morally be knows how to respect his elders and obey the parents; and spiritually he is elevated enough because of his innocence which is untarnished. Man can become the “Caption of his soul and master of destiny” only if he; has been properly trained tamed, guided and allowed to develop.
In the global perspective during the last 15 years, states have focused their attention in crediting of poverty and the promotion of gender equality, peace, sustainable development and securing rights of children. States nascent articulation can be seen more effectively in protecting global child rights and enforcement mechanism for early end of child labour. But sill no region of the world is completely free from children labour and it has taken the shape of a global challenge today.
Though, mostly prevalent in the under-developed regions ofAsia,AfricaandLatin America, child labour also exists in rich industrialized countries. According to the ILO, more than 95 percent of all child workers live in developing countries, hi some regions, as many as 25 percent of children between the gases of 10 and 14 are estimated to be working.
Although authentic figures are difficult to get, available in formation reveals that certain countries likeBangladesh,India, andPakistan.Turkey,Egypt,Kenya,Nigeria,Senegal,Argentina,Brazil,Mexico,ItalyandPortugalhave comparatively higher rates of economic activity amongst children. These children are working generally in seasonal job activities, street trades, and small workshops are in a home setting, as well as in agriculture farms.
Asiaaccounts for more than 50 percent of the world’s child laborers who constitute as much as 17 percent of the overall child force in some countries. In thePhilippines, 45 million children work legally and illegally in factories, farms and household. Burma,Cambodia,IndonesiaandThailandalso are noted for their child labour problems. Observers claim that as many as 2 million children under the age of 14 are working half-to-full it inIndonesia, mostly in family-run businesses in the informal sector and in agriculture. One-fourth of all the world’s child laborers are found inIndiaalone. Other counties in southernAsialikeNepalandBangladeshare also rife with child labour problem.
Pakistan, in this global scenario, is not an exception. As the entire world is voicing concern against this issue with increased momentum, its eradication calls for an integrated and coordinated action. As such, there is a dire necessity to create internationally an environment that should serve as a helpful pressure though cooperative prelateship between industrialized countries and the developing nations by means of financial assistance for the uplift of the poor societies and combating the problems like high population growth,. illiteracy, economic recessions and unemployment, etc, instead of developing a climate to aggravate these problems.
Opinions on the conception of child labor are divided and distorted amongst various countries depending on the stages of their development. The developing countries, includingPakistanand other South Asian countries, view it essentially as a projectionist poly. The developed countries project child labor and the conditions of their work and remuneration as a fundamental question of human rights. They view conditions of work for child labour as harsh, exploitative and hazardous. A number of work places are seen as exposing children to undesirable environments: smoking, drug addiction, crimes and other immoral pursuits.
Conditions of child labor are defined by ILO as working:
(a) Too young:
(b) For long hours, in some cases 12 to 16 hours a day;
(c) Under physical, social and psychological strain and stress;
(d) On the streets in healthy and dangerous condition; and
(e) For very little pay.
Child labour is a product of various factors:
(a) Unemployment, under employment and poverty;
(b) Unsatisfactory availability of educational institutions and poor quality of education;
(c) Indifferent attitude of parents and society;
(d) Absence of any formal social security mechanism; and
(e) Sub-optimal policy formulation and implementation
Child labour is also seen as contributing towards the perpetuation available to adults. By accepting lower wages, child labour forces even adults to accept lower competitive wages. Lower wages accepted by adult force other family members including children, to become active in the labor market and seek any work opportunity of wages and condition of work. (Jalazai, 2004)