Labor in Pakistan

Written by Maryam Ibrahim 1:04 pm Articles, Current Affairs, Pakistan, Published Content

The Harsh Reality of Child Labor in Pakistan

Millions of children in Pakistan are trapped in the vicious claws of child labor, deprived of a normal life, education, healthcare, and security. Despite the nationwide ban on child labor and bonded labor – a form of modern-day slavery – their prevalence in Pakistan is a reflection of flawed democracy, poor economic conditions, and exploitative societal norms. Maryam Ibrahim highlights that child labor not only robs children of their childhood but also hinders their overall development, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality.
why submit to us?
About the Author(s)
+ posts

Maryam Ibrahim has recently graduated from Lahore College for Women University with a bachelor's in international relations. Her sphere of interest includes the digitalization of international relations, specifically digital diplomacy.


Under the sweltering heat, rising dark smoke from brick kilns, and the dreadful hum of factory equipment, business is brisk. Whether selling goods by the side of the road or digging through other people’s trash to locate anything valuable, we see kids working side by side. Many of them are from households where sending their kids to work is the sole means of survival.

Few concerns in developing nations are as popularly discussed as child labor. According to an International Labour Organization (ILO) survey, 160 million children are employed in forced labor, globally. Of those children, 76 million were compelled to work in hazardous conditions in 2016. Throughout history, child labor has taken place in several human cultures at different times.

Even while developing countries have had substantial challenges as a result of child labor, both developed and emerging countries are affected. Child labor is a problem that is getting worse all across the world, especially in developing countries. The future of any nation is in the hands of its youth since they bear responsibility for the development or downfall of their country. For the state to progress, the youth must be smart and educated. And if the youngsters are socialized in a positive way, they could be useful. The country might set out on a voyage to the horizon if the children receive an education.

How can these very young members of society manage the state’s future in a way that will allow it to compete with the rest of the world if they are made to enter the workforce? Unfortunately, children’s prospects in less developed countries are less certain. Due to a multitude of circumstances that either intentionally or unintentionally contribute to the issue of child labor, Pakistan is also a victim of this growing global pandemic. Children from low-income homes are more likely to start working early, have poorer educational achievement, and endure other socioeconomic disadvantages in Pakistan, like in many developing countries.

Also Read:  The Current Situation of Pakistan's Economy in Light of Covid-19

According to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Convention 182, a person under the age of 18 is regarded as a child. ILO defines child labor as, “The work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” Additionally, it can make it such that kids are unable to go to school, make them leave early, or make them try to manage school and extremely demanding work. As per Rodgers and Standing (1981), there are four distinct kinds of child work: domestic work, wage labor, non-domestic and non-monitored employment, and bonded labor.

Child Labour in Pakistan

Child labor is not a recent development. The industrial boom under Zia-ul-Haq, when there was a pressing demand for laborers, is where this terrible phenomenon’s beginnings may be found. Children were recruited at the newly constructed factories that were established by the capitalists because their wages were lower than those of the adults. Child labor is not a singular occurrence; rather, it is the result of several socioeconomic variables acting in concert. Its causes include poverty, a lack of opportunity, education, and awareness, a greater population growth rate, outmoded societal norms and customs, and a wide range of supply and demand dynamics.

Labor in Pakistan

Political Causes

In Pakistan, political reforms were never consistently carried out, contributing to a flawed democracy that further squeezed the poor. As a result of this, the poverty rate increased and the income gap in the country widened. The authors of the book “Why Nation Fails” contend that there is a connection between state institutions and a number of societal issues like inequities, unemployment, and poverty in emerging countries.

The increase in poverty and the associated child labor has created a favorable environment for the spread of child labor. Due to Pakistan’s failure to execute major social reforms, it has become a major national concern. Therefore, the significance of political factors to the growth of child labor in the country cannot be overstated.

Economic Causes

Pakistan’s economy has had a number of issues ever since it gained independence. Pakistan consistently went through cycles of prosperity and collapse. Economic considerations are blamed for the increase in child labor in the nation owing to a number of causes. First, the nation’s economic foundation is not very solid. The second issue is unemployment which affects 7% of the population in the state. Every 3 out of 10 people in Pakistan are unemployed. The unemployment rate in urban areas has reached 10% while in rural areas it is 5%. 

Income disparities constitute the third issue. As per a report by the World Inequality Database, “the top 10% of Pakistani households earn 42% of the country’s income, while the bottom 50% earn only 13%.” The interaction of all these elements has led to an increase in child labor in the nation.

Also Read:  Why the Supreme Court is Challenging the 2022 Kenya Election

Social Causes

Socioeconomic issues have been the main contributors to child labor in Pakistan. First, the social structure has historically been patriarchal. There are more factors that contribute to overpopulation, which over time may place an excessive load on the family. Second, the country has a severe education crisis and a high rate of illiteracy. In rural areas, the lack of literacy is more obvious. The lack of knowledge results in a lack of enlightened values being instilled. Children in such circumstances are more committed to child labor than schooling.

Overpopulation has been cited as the main factor contributing to child labor in Pakistan. Overpopulation puts a strain on both household income and the nation’s resources. Numerous problems, including more children and related needs for more income, might result from an expansion of homes and the population. The only option available to the family in this scenario is to use child labor to supplement their meager income and efficiently satisfy their different demands.

Bonded Labour

Over 85% of the 20 million people who are forced into bonded labour by feudal lords, industrial owners, and aristocrats worldwide live in South Asia. The word “bound labor” may be foreign to many readers, but for those who had experience with it or are currently employed in it, it is nothing short of misery. Bonded labor is the practice of forcing employees to perform labor or provide services to creditors in exchange for cash advances and placing limits on their freedom of movement or employment until the loan is repaid.

The debtors are frequently forced to mortgage the services of not only themselves but also the members of their family for a fixed or indefinite amount of time, with or without pay. The bonded labor can persist for a number of years due to the exploitative nature of the connection between the creditor and debtor; in certain situations, the debts can be passed down through the generations as a result of inheritance. Due to the employer’s absolute control, this lending arrangement/peshgi (loans) is fundamentally unfair.

The Case of Iqbal Masih

Iqbal, who was just five years old when his mother required money for a life-saving procedure, was forced into debt and forced to work as a laborer at a carpet factory in Pakistan. While working there, the factory owners subjected him to inhumane treatment, treating him like a mere slave. After a failed attempt at escaping the life of slavery, Iqbal soon learned that the state had banned child labor. Upon hearing this, the courageous child somehow managed to escape his brutal owner’s grasp and came into contact with the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) members, who gave him the required platform to express himself.

Iqbal then went on to organize and lead protests nationally and internationally in support of the total abolition of bonded labor, especially for the hundreds of thousands of children who were, and still are, caught in the cycle. Iqbal became a source of strength and hope for many people as local, national, and worldwide media flocked to his message. However, such a strong voice was portending a disaster for the owners of countless sites that depended on bonded labor. Despite knowing that his life was in danger, Iqbal remained determined to continue fighting for the cause. On April 16, 1995, Iqbal Masih who was just a 12-year-old boy at the time, was shot and killed in Muritke, near Lahore.

Also Read:  How Regional Powers Are Strengthening Relations with the Taliban

Combating Child Labour: Initiatives and Bills

Article 11 of Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution calls for the abolition of all forms of exploitation. In addition to outlawing all forms of forced labor and bonded labor, it also forbids the employment of minors younger than 14 in any mines, factories, or other dangerous jobs. Several pieces of national legislation in Pakistan, based on various international laws and agreements, address the subject of child labor or the worst forms of child labor.

The Employment of Children Act, of 1991 is the main law regulating the employment of children in certain occupations and processes. According to Section 3 Part II, this law defines a “child” as a person who has not yet completed fourteen years of age and regulates the conditions for the employment of children in safer types of work. This governs their rights including working hours, rest breaks, etc.

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 forbids any type of forced labor and outlaws all forms of bonded labor. This act marks a turning point in Pakistan’s history of exploitation of labor and has freed countless bonded laborers. Prior to the act, no lawsuit could be brought to recover any bond debt since all responsibilities on the part of the bonded labor were nullified.


Child labor not only damages the lives of the children involved, but it also calls into question the moral foundations of society and has a variety of political, social, and economic effects on society. However, the problem of child labor prohibits a kid from getting an education, depriving him of many fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, different laws, and international agreements to which Pakistan is a signatory. These young people, who are thought of as the future of any proud nation and who would have otherwise been in school, now work together to assist their elders cope by attempting to lessen their suffering.

If you want to submit your articles, research papers, and book reviews, please check the Submissions page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

(Visited 809 times, 1 visits today)
Click to access the login or register cheese