For child labourers, education still a distant dream

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Aamir Yasin

Every morning, Zubair Ahmed, 9, wistfully looks at other children going to schools. Young Ahmed always wanted to get education but his parents’ poor financial condition forced him to work at an automobile workshop to earn bread for the family.

Early in the morning, Ahmed reaches at his workplace near the Government Muslim High School at Saidpur Road and works there the whole day.

“I want to go to school and play cricket with other children. But how can I fulfil my dream when I work in the workshop from 9am to 9pm,” Ahmed said while talking to Dawn. “My father is a labourer and he wanted me to get technical training instead of working as a labourer and requested the owner of the workshop to train me.”

He said at present he was not being paid any salary as he was getting training. “After working for about two years, the workshop owner started giving me one-time meal and Rs50 daily. I spend most of the amount on purchasing sweets for my younger sister and two brothers,” he said.

“How can I get education? My father has to work as a daily wager to make ends meet. On rainy days and public holidays, there is no work at all. My mother saves some money from the amount which I give her daily and uses it during these lean days,” he said.

Gul Zaman, 13, who works at an automobile workshop at Dhoke Hassu, added that he also wanted to get education but poverty forced him into working at the workshop. “My father died a few years back and my mother married again. Our stepfather asks me and my 10-year-old brother to work and bring him money daily.”

He said his stepfather used to tell him that education was not important and a technical person could make more money. “I have been working at the workshop for three years. The owner mostly asks me to clean the room and open the nuts of vehicles. However, I learned many things while observing him repairing the vehicles,” he said.

“I have no other choice except sending my child to work. We are poor and cannot afford education which is for the rich people. We have to work daily to earn the bread,” said Abdur Rasheed, the father of a boy who also works at an auto-workshop in Satellite Town.

He said the family would suffer if he sent his child to school. “I worked daily but my income is not sufficient to feed my nine-member family,” he said.

This is not the story of two or three children as there are hundreds of children working in workshops, tailor shops, barbers, restaurants, markets, etc.

Three years back, the Punjab government launched a ‘universal primary education campaign’ in the province to enroll all out-of-school children in the age group of five to nine years.

According to the programme, the schoolteachers were to visit the areas adjacent to their schools and convince the parents to send their children to school. In return, the school will provide free books, uniforms, bags and stationery to the children.

However, even three years after launching the campaign, the provincial government failed to bring all children to schools.

Executive District Officer (education) Qazi Zahoorul Haq said last year the government gave his department the target of enrolling 64,065 children in the district. “We achieved 98 per cent of the target and enrolled the children adjacent to government schools,” he said.

“For this year, the provincial government has directed us to enroll 120,000 children. We achieved 25 per cent of the target till April,” he said and added that the remaining target would be achieved by the end of 2014.

However, the education department also included private school and seminary students in the list.

According to a list prepared by the education department for this year, 7910 boys and 6966 girls were enrolled in government schools in the district while 7916 boys and 6950 girls were enrolled in private schools. Besides, 395 boys and 191 girls were enrolled in different seminaries. “We made the list about how many children in the district were going to educational institutions, including seminaries,” the EDO said.

To a question about children working in workshops and other places, he agreed that there were still lots of out-of-school children. He said the government should formulate a policy to introduce a package for the poor parents to convince them to send their children to schools.

Shafqat Munir, a human rights activist who works with Oxfam International, said the government should devise a plan to ensure that no child remained out of school.

“It is not a charity to give free textbooks and other facilities to children as it is the responsibility of the government to provide education to them. And the government has to work to achieve the millennium goals under the international conventions,” he said.

Former MNA and PML-N leader Malik Shakil Awan said the PML-N had started a union council-wise survey in the district to collect data about out-of school children. “After the completion of the survey, the PML-N leaders will visit all the parents and try to convince them to send their children to schools.”

He said they had given suggestions to the government to enroll all deserving parents in the Punjab government Khidmat card scheme for their financial assistance. Education and health facilities would also be provided to them through these cards under a phased programme, he added.

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