WEB DESK: The All Punjab Brick Kiln Owners Association announced a three-day lockout on Sunday to protest against government raids to stop child labour. Creditably for it, the provincial government recently took the first meaningful step towards abolishing the inhuman activity, rampant in brick kilns, with the issuance of January 14 Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance, 2016. Under the new law, the practice is a non-bailable offence punishable with up to six months imprisonment or Rs 500,000 fine.
It seems the owners did not take the law seriously, expecting the government to be content announcing the law. Fortunately for the affectees, this time the government is demonstrating seriousness in ensuring implementation too. Committees comprising area DCOs, DPOs, ACs and SDPOs have been authorised to inspect 12 kilns per week for compliance and take action against transgressors while making arrangements to send the children to government schools.
During the recent days, as many as 40 brick kilns have been sealed and 42 persons found carrying on employing child labour arrested. The Association, of course, claims innocence, saying the assigned officials are interested only in fulfilling a formality and hence have been taking children into custody from their homes while asleep or at play, telling their parents to take them to nearby schools. However, Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resource Raja Sarwar told journalists a few days ago that a helpline set up by his department had received 80 complaints, which led to a prompt action. The Association also argues that the schools are not accepting these children (from five to 14-years-old) because either they are overage, or fail to furnish the necessary documents like B-form, birth certificate, CNIC, etc.
That may be true in some instances, but not in all cases. The ministry seems to have done its homework well. Raja Sarwar disclosed that the number of children from five to 14 years of age is 23,642, out of which the labour department, in collaboration with different other departments, had provided admission to 21,847 children in schools close to the brick kilns.
Apparently, the nearly two thousand are ineligible for admission on account of overage. For the rest there are significant inducements to attend school. Each child is to get free books, notebooks, uniforms, transport and a Rs 1000 monthly stipend while the parents are to receive Rs 2000 at the time of admission.
These are important enough incentives for these poor of the poorest to want to cooperate with the government for a better future for their offspring. Unfortunately, despite a law banning bonded labour entire families, including children as little as five-years-old, have been working in these places all over the country. Despite public outcry the owners have gone on with the practice, exploiting generations of poverty-stricken families to secure cheap labour.
The government must take a strict stand in the present situation and see to it that necessary arrangements are made for putting these children in school, and the ones who cannot be admitted for some reason are provided with skill development opportunities to lead productive lives.
Source: Business Recorder