In Pakistan child labor prevails in many forms, in the rural areas majority of the children are involved in agricultural occupations, those in the urban areas are employed in more diversified occupations such as in loading and unloading of goods, hotels and restaurants, fishing, auto workshops, rag picking, shoe-shining, begging etc.
There are many occupations where children’s visibility is high but there are some jobs that are not only less visible but also categorized as hazardous such as the tanning industry. Tanning in Pakistan is the second largest export industry that employs about 500,000 people directly and contributes 5% of GDP and 5.4% to the overall export earnings of the country. Punjab being the most populous province has the highest volume of child labor associated with this industry. District Kasur in Punjab with its 200+ tanneries has the largest chunk of the industry and represents almost a third of the total number of tanneries in Pakistan. Union Councils 5 & 6 in Kasur have the lowest literacy rate (8%) compared to its adjacent urban surroundings with children work-ing in tanneries with an average income of PKR 6,000.
To prevent and combat the issue of child labor in the tanning industry based in Kasur, Alpha Foundation (AF) approached USAID’s Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program to provide primary level education to 500 children of ages 5-14 years working in tanneries during a period of 30-months, through formation of 12 Non-Formal Education (NFE) Centers, and then mainstreaming them either into public schools or guiding them towards formal vocational training. With a grant of USD 274,952 awarded under Small Grants Program from Oct 2012 to March 2015 the project is contributing significantly in improving the literacy ratio and reducing child labor especially among the children working in Kasur tannery industry. The project also aims at conducting national level policy advocacy campaign through Press, Dialogues and Television Talk show to increase awareness and rejuvenate efforts for preventing and reducing child labor.
Educating children, rather than forcing them to work, brings better results in terms of both productivity and increased wages once the child grows up and becomes a worker. This is besides the social and health bene-fits, with fewer resources being spent on treating illnesses and injuries caused due to hazardous work. By the end of this project these 500 children will be able to complete primary education through Punjab Exami-nation Commission. Of these 400 will be mainstreamed into public schools whereas, the remaining 100 will be linked with vocational institutes for learning technical skills for supporting their families financially.
“My father passed away few years ago and now the entire financial responsibility falls on my mother who works in a tannery. Me and my sister stitch shoe uppers to help our mother. We always wanted to study but due to financial limitations couldn’t pursue our dreams. It is not easy to work in a tannery with haz-ardous chemicals; many of my friends have already gotten skin diseases. As there is no other income generating opportunity hence we have no choice except to work in these tanneries. I am thankful to USAID and Alpha Foundation for establishing this education center in Mochi Pura where we are receiving free education,” says an innocent 11 year Ulfat Ahmad on his way to the center along with his sister.