Child Labour: Issues, Causes And Interventions

child labour

                                                                                          Child Labour

Child Labour: Issues, Causes And Interventions


Child labor is a pervasive problem throughout the world, especially in developing countries. Africa and Asia together account for over 90 percent of total child employment. Child labor is especially prevalent in rural areas where the capacity to enforce minimum age requirements for schooling and work is lacking. Children work for a variety of reasons, the most important being poverty and the induced pressure upon them to escape from this plight. Though children are not well paid, they still serve as major contributors to family income in developing countries. Schooling problems also contribute to child labor, whether it is the inaccessibility of schools or the lack of quality education that spurs parents to enter their children in more profitable pursuits. Traditional factors such as rigid cultural and social roles in certain countries further limit educational attainment and increase child labor.

Working children are the objects of extreme exploitation in terms of toiling for long hours for minimal pay. Their work conditions are especially severe, often not providing the stimulation for proper physical and mental development. Many of these children endure lives of pure deprivation. However, there are problems with the intuitive solution of immediately abolishing child labor to prevent such abuse. First, there is no international agreement defining child labor, making it hard to isolate cases of abuse, let alone abolish them. Second, many children may have to work in order to attend school so abolishing child labor may only hinder their education. Any plan of abolishment depends on schooling. The state could help by making it worthwhile for a child to attend school, whether it is by providing students with nutritional supplements or increasing the quality and usefulness of obtaining an education. There must be an economic change in the condition of a struggling family to free a child from the responsibility of working. Family subsidies can help provide this support.

This analysis leads to certain implications for the international community. Further investigation into this subject is required before calls are made for banning child labor across the board. By establishing partnerships with humanitarian organizations, the international community can focus on immediately solving the remediable problems of working children.

Situations of forced child labor

Examples of forced child labor are examined below. They include debt bondage, kidnapping, trafficking, and sale of children, and domestic servitude.

  1. Debt bondage

Debt bondage, found predominantly in South Asia and Latin America, occurs when, in return for a money advance or credit, a person, having no other security to offer, pledges his/her labor or that of a child for an indefinite period of time. In many cases a parent takes a loan aware that the labor of his entire family will be offered in return. In other cases the child alone is subjected to bondage by parents or a guardian who pledge the child’s labor in exchange for a loan:

Children become a commodity in this process. Parents have absolute power over their children, making it possible for children to be pledged chattel-like to pay off debts.
Technically, bonded laborers can end their state of servitude once the debt is repaid. But the fact of the matter is that this rarely occurs. Since debtors are often illiterate and lack basic math skills, they are easy prey for deception by moneylenders. A combination of low wages and usurious interest rates make it impossible to repay the initial debt. In many cases the debt increases because the employer deducts payment for equipment and tools or charges fines for faulty work. Sometimes the labor pledged is used to repay the interest on the loan but not the principal.

Debt bondage is commonly found in rural areas where traditional class or caste structures and semi-feudalistic patterns endure. Landless or near-landless households, as well as migrant laborers, are particularly vulnerable to debt bondage since they have few resources with which to meet daily needs or unexpected expenses. There are no alternative sources of credit available. Sometimes families take loans they cannot repay in order to fund ceremonial events such as weddings and funerals.

In cases of “intergenerational” bondage, debts are passed down from parent to child. Once a parent is no longer able to work, the child assumes the debt. This occurs particularly in countries with longstanding feudal agricultural societies.

Other contractual-type arrangements exist that can eventually lead to debt bondage. In agriculture or mining, persons may be recruited and transported long distances to work. In most cases the actual conditions of employment are not written. Where written contracts exist, the illiterate children and families are unable to verify their contents. Once they arrive at the work site, often in remote areas from which escape is impossible, they find the conditions to be much worse than initially described.

These situations lead to bondage when transport costs and living expenses are deducted from pay. Families or children are required to buy food and medicine and other supplies at inflated prices from a concessionaire or company store. When workers owe more than they have received in pay, they find themselves ensnared in debt bondage. Unable to pay for their return trip home, they are forced to stay.

  1. Trafficking in Children

The abduction of children leads to some of the most exploitative and abusive situations of child bondage. In some cases, children are kidnapped, taken far away from home and sold into prostitution. In other cases abducted children are sold to work in small-scale industries. There are also reports of young boys from South Asia trafficked and sold to be used as camel jockeys in the Gulf States.

Systems of child trafficking include various middlemen, recruiting agents and conveying agents. There are networks of intermediaries at every level — local, national and international.

  1. Sale of children and fraudulent recruitment

Many children are sold by their parents or lured away from their homes by recruiters. Poor families are commonly seduced by false promises of middlemen such as recruiting agents or contractors. The recruiters promise well-paying jobs and a brighter future for the children, often misrepresenting the type of work the child will perform.

Recruiters or contractors are often associated with a particular employer or organized agency, or may work independently. Sometimes village members or neighbors earn money by recruiting children for work. They make their rounds in villages and slums, “insinuating themselves as friends and helpers of the poorest families, understanding their plight and offering to help them with their financial problems. The child is then taken away by bus, truck or train to be sold to a master. In some cases, families are never reunited.

Parents are often given an advance by the recruiter to pay for travel and food. The child is then confined to the workplace until he/she is able to pay off the debt owed from the advance. In many countries children are forced into the sex industry because their parents have sold them to recruiters, or because recruiters have lured the children away with promises of an exciting life in the big city.

The selling of children by their parents has reportedly been on the increase in Sudan due to the ongoing civil war. Destitute families sell boys between 7 and 12 years old to merchants for approximately $70 each. Once sold, children have little chance of being reunited with their parents.

  1. Domestic Servants

The use of children as domestic servants is widespread and occurs in many countries in Asia, as well as in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Although no reliable global or national figures exist on the number of children engaged in domestic employment, the figure is undoubtedly in the millions worldwide, and may be on the increase.

Child domestic servants — usually young girls — work as “virtual slaves.” They are given or sold to families or distant relatives to serve as household help. They generally work extended hours, and are sometimes treated harshly by their employer, beaten or sexually abused. They are often not paid. Strangers to the city or town where they work and isolated from their parents, the children are powerless to change their position.

Though restrictions on child labor exist in most nations, many children do work. This vulnerable state leaves them prone to exploitation. The International Labor Office reports that children work the longest hours and are the worst paid of all laborers. They endure work conditions that include health hazards and potential abuse. Employers capitalize on the docility of the children recognizing that these laborers cannot legally form unions to change their conditions. Such manipulation stifles the development of youths. Their working conditions do not provide the stimulation for proper physical and mental development. Finally, these children are deprived of the simple joys of childhood, relegated instead to a life of drudgery. However, there are problems with the obvious solution of abolishing child labor. First, there is no international agreement defining child labor. Countries not only have different minimum age work restrictions, but also have varying regulations based on the type of labor. This makes the limits of child labor very ambiguous. Most would agree that a six year old is too young to work, but whether the same can be said about a twelve year old is debatable. Until there is global agreement that can isolate cases of child labor, it will be very hard to abolish. There is also the view that work can help a child in terms of socialization, in building self-esteem and for training. The problem is, then, not child labor itself, but the conditions under which it operates.

Human Rights:

CHILD labor has assumed epidemic proportions in Pakistan. Statistics are unreliable, but the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) last year estimated the number of Pakistani working children to be “realistically in the region of 11-12 million.” At least half these children are under the age of ten. Despite a recent series of laws prohibiting child labor and indentured servitude, children make up a quarter of the unskilled work force, and can be found in virtually every factory, every workshop, and every field. They earn on average a third of the adult wage. Certain industries, notably carpet making and brick making, cannot survive without them. One World Bank economist maintains that Pakistan’s economic viability correlates with the number of children in its factories. The child labor pool is all but inexhaustible, owing in part to a birth rate that is among the world’s highest and to an education system that can accommodate only about a third of the country’s school-age children. Each year millions of children enter the labor force, where they compete with adults–often even with their parents–for what little work is available. In many regions the surplus of cheap child labor has depressed the already inadequate adult wage to the point where a parent and child together now earn less than the parent alone earned a year ago. As long as children are put to work, poverty will spread and standards of living will continue to decline.



There are no specific international standards on “forced child labor.” This study uses ILO and United Nations standards on minimum age for employment, forced labor, the economic exploitation of children, and slavery-like practices.

Forced labor is defined by ILO Convention 29 on Forced or Compulsory Labor as “all work or service that is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” Convention 29 calls upon ratifying states to “suppress the use of forced or compulsory labor in all its forms.”

The United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines slavery to include: debt bondage, serfdom and any practice whereby a person under 18 years of age is delivered by his parent/guardian, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the young person or his labor.

The 1956 Convention defines debt bondage as:

the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.

Most commonly, the person under control is a child, whose services are sometimes pledged at a very young age.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children must be protected from all forms of economic exploitation. This includes performing any work “that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The Convention also calls for the prevention of the use of children in illicit production and trafficking of drugs; protection against all forms of sexual exploitation; and prevention against abduction, sale of or traffic in children for any purpose.


Dependence on Child Labor:

To be sure, child labor is an institution throughout the Third World, and its incidence has been increasing in countries that are usually described as advanced. The worldwide population of children under fourteen who work full-time is thought to exceed 200 million. But few countries have done less to abolish or to contain the practice than Pakistan. And fewer still have a ruling class that opposes workplace reform and human rights initiatives as vigorously. Given its relative prosperity, its constitutional prohibition against child labor, and its leaders’ signatures on every UN human- and child-rights convention, Pakistan’s de facto dependency on child labor is troubling and to its critics inexcusable.

“Inaction speaks louder than words,” says I. A. Rehman, the director of the HRCP. “This government is in continuous violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and has consistently refused to enforce those very laws it enacted to protect its most vulnerable citizens. We have far more in the way of resources and legal remedies than China, India, and Indonesia, and we do far less for our young than they. The problem is lack of political will. The problem is greed.”

The median age of children now entering the Pakistani work force is seven. Two years ago it was eight. Two years from now it may be six. In the lowest castes, children become laborers almost as soon as they can walk. Toddlers, yoked teams of three-, four-, and five-year-olds who plough, seed, and glean fields from dawn to dusk work much of the nation’s farmland. On any given morning the canal banks and irrigation ditches in rural villages are lined with urchins who stand no taller than the piles of laundry they wash for their wealthier neighbors. Even the world-class industries of Islamabad, the modern capital, are staffed in large part by children and adolescents; politicians traveling to the National Assembly can’t help noticing the ragged youths entering and exiting the brick factories, steel mills, and stone-crushing plants at all hours of the day and night. These children work with a minimum of adult supervision. An overseer comes by periodically to mark their progress and to give them instructions or a few encouraging blows, but for the better part of the workday they are left to themselves. “Children are cheaper to run than tractors and smarter than oxen,” explains one Rawalpindi landowner. He prefers field hands between seven and ten years old, “because they have the most energy, although they lack discipline.”

In rural areas children are raised without health care, sanitation, or education; many are as starved for affection as for food. As soon as they’re old enough to have an elementary understanding of their circumstances, their parents teach them that they are expected to pay their way, to make sacrifices, and, if necessary, to travel far from home and live with strangers. “When my children were three, I told them they must be prepared to work for the good of the family.

Bonding is common practice among the lower castes, and although the decision to part with their children is not made lightly, parents do not agonize over it. Neither, evidently, do the children, who regard bonding as a rite of passage, the event that transforms them into adults. Many look forward to it in the same way that American children look forward to a first communion or getting a driver’s license. They are eager to cast off childhood, even if to do so means taking on adult burdens. Irfana, a twelve-year-old schoolgirl who spent four years as a brick worker before she was freed by an anti-slavery organization, remembers feeling relieved when her father handed her over at age six to a kiln owner. “My friends and I knew that sooner or later we’d be sent off to the factories or the fields. We were tired of doing chores and minding infants. We looked forward to the day when we’d be given responsibilities and the chance to earn money. At the time work seemed glamorous and children who worked seemed quite important.”

She soon learned otherwise. “For the masters, bonded children are like commodities. My master bought, sold, and traded us like livestock, and sometimes he shipped us great distances. The boys were beaten frequently to make them work long hours. The girls were often violated. My best friend got ill after she was raped, and when she couldn’t work, the master sold her to a friend of his in a village a thousand kilometers away. Her family was never told where she was sent, and they never saw her again.”

Early in this decade the Pakistan National Assembly enacted two labor laws meant to curb such practices. The first, The Employment of Children Act of 1991, prohibited the use of child labor in hazardous occupations and environments. The second, The Bonded Labor Act of 1992, abolished indentured servitude and the peshgi system. As progressive as these laws were, the government failed to provide for their implementation and enforcement. It also neglected to inform the millions of working children and indentured servants that they were free and released from their debts. “We prefer to leave enforcement to the discretion of the police,” says a Ministry of Labor official. “They understand best the needs of their community. Law is not an absolute. We must expect certain flexibility on the part of those who enforce it. Could this sometimes mean looking the other way? Absolutely.”




Child labor is most concentrated in Asia and Africa, which together account for more than 90 percent of total child employment (see Table 1). Though there are more child workers in Asia than anywhere else, a higher percentage of African children participate in the labor force (see Table 2). Asia is led by India that has 44 million child laborers, giving it the largest child workforce in the world. In Pakistan, 10 percent of all workers are between the ages of 10 and 14 years.


Table 1:

Distribution of Economically Active Children under 15 Years of Age

(Percent of total world child labor)

Region 1980 1985 1990
Africa 17.0 18.0 21.3
Americas 4.7 5.6 na
Asia 77.8 75.9 72.3
Europe 0.3 0.2 0.1
Oceania 0.2 0.2 0.2
Source: ILO 1993. Note: na…not available


Table 2:

Comparison of Labor Force Participation Rates of Children and Adults by Region (percent)

Region 15 years and over 10-14 years
Africa 65.2 22.0
Americas 61.8 7.9
Asia 68.1 15.3
Europe 54.5 0.3
Oceania 62.7 6.9
Source: ILO 1993.




Children work for a variety of reasons. The most important is poverty. Children work to ensure the survival of their family and themselves. Though children are not well paid, they still serve as major contributors to family income in developing countries. For example, minors in Paraguay contribute almost a quarter of the total family income.



Children are often prompted to work by their parents. According to one study, parents represent 62 percent of the source of induction into employment. Children make their own decisions to work only 8 percent of the time. In fact, a possible reason parents in developing countries have children is because they can be profitable. Children seem to be much less of an economic burden in developing versus developed countries. Children in developing countries also contribute more time to a household than they deplete as compared to their counterparts in developed countries. Therefore, parents in developing countries make use of children’s ability to work.

Costly Education:

Schooling problems also contribute to child labor. Many times children seek employment simply because there is no access to schools (distance, no school at all). When there is access, the low quality of the education often makes attendance a waste of time for the students. Schools in many developing areas suffer from problems such as overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and apathetic teachers. As a result, parents may find no use in sending their children to school when they could be home learning a skill (for example, agriculture) and supplementing the family income. Because parents have so much control over their children, their perception of the value of school is a main determinant of child attendance. Parents who are educated understand the importance of schooling from personal experience. As a result, parental education plays a large role in determining child schooling and employment. School attendance by a child is also highly correlated with family income. Therefore, when children drop out of school, it is not necessarily because of irresponsible parenting; it may be due to the family’s financial situation. When these children leave school, they become potential workers. A major reason India has the largest juvenile workforce is because 82 million children are not in school (Weiner 1991). The result is that only a minority gets a quality education. For example, only 41 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are literate. This decreases to 33 percent in Bangladesh and 26 percent in Pakistan. Poor families, however, are able to recognize good quality schooling and are frequently prepared to sacrifice child labor in order to invest in a good education for their children.


Traditional Factors:

Traditional factors are also important. The established female role in certain countries dictates that women will not fit into traditional roles if they become educated. There is a pervasive notion in some nations that educated females will not get married nor have children. Therefore, many families raise daughters solely to take over the household duties in order release the mother for paid labor. Such cultural practices restrict the education of females and promote child employment. The acceptance of social class separation perpetuates child labor as well. For example, people’s lower castes are expected to perform manual labor and therefore are more apt not to attend school.

Often parents in developing countries assign different roles to their children. This has been called child specialization, and may increase the number of working children. This phenomenon involves certain siblings going to school while others work. Many times this depends on the birth order where the oldest is the one who attends school. Researchers find that the number of siblings does not have much of an effect on school enrollment, although it does have a significant effect on child labor. This exclusive effect is not inconsistent with the idea of specialization.


Rapid Rural-Urban Migration:

Rapid rural-to-urban migration is the cause for the increasing rate of child labor in urban areas of developing countries. Families leave the severity of agricultural working conditions for cities in order to search for economic opportunities that often do not exist. In the last 40 years, this movement has been drastic. In 1950, 17 percent of the population of Pakistan lived in urban areas. This increased to 32 percent in 1988. By the year 2000 it is estimated that this proportion will increase to 40 percent, and to 57 percent by the year 2025. Such increases, coupled with worsening economic trends, force children and their families into urban poverty; children are soon required to work.



School represents the most important means of drawing children away from the labor market. Studies have correlated low enrollment with increased rates of child employment.  School provides children with guidance and the opportunity to understand their role in society. However, at first, children will not attend these schools without an economic change in their condition. Schools must make it worthwhile for children to attend in order to make up for lost earnings. One necessary provision is that these schools be free. Another possibility is that these schools serve food supplements. Parents might view this nutrition as valuable and therefore keep their children in school. The quality of education can also be improved so that schooling is considered an imp


Low Cost:

The low cost of child labor gives manufacturers a significant advantage in the Western marketplace, where they undersell their competitors from countries prohibiting child labor, often by improbable amounts. Not surprisingly, American and European consumers are attracted to low-price, high-quality products, and imports of child-made carpets from Pakistan have trebled in the past two decades. Pakistan’s carpet makers have satisfied this surging demand by expanding production at existing factories and opening new ones wherever they can. To maximize their returns, virtually all these factories employ children, and an increasing number do so exclusively. Somewhere between 500,000 and one million Pakistani children aged four to fourteen now work as full-time carpet weavers. UNICEF believes that they make up 90 percent of the carpet makers’ work force.
Family Conditions:

However, whatever misgivings child laborers have at the moment are overshadowed by their poverty, which is extreme and worsening. They support a family of five on average by working at a nearby kiln, molding bricks by hand for up to eighty hours a week. The work pays poorly at the best of times, and on occasion it does not pay at all.

Facts & Figures:

A sporting-goods factory in the City of Sialkot, seventy miles from Lahore, where scores of children, most of them aged five to ten, produce soccer balls by hand for forty rupees, or about $1.20, a day. The children work eighty hours a week in near-total darkness and total silence. According to the foreman, the darkness is both an economy and a precautionary measure; child-rights activists have difficulty taking photographs and gathering evidence of wrongdoing if the lighting is poor. The silence is to ensure product quality: “If the children speak, they are not giving their complete attention to the product and are liable to make errors.” The children are permitted one thirty-minute meal break each day; they are punished if they take longer. They are also punished if they fall asleep, if their workbenches are sloppy, if they waste material or mis-cut a pattern, if they complain of mistreatment to their parents or speak to strangers outside the factory. A partial list of “infractions” for which they may be punished is tacked to a wall near the entrance. It’s a document of dubious utility: the children are illiterate. Punishments are doled out in a storage closet at the rear of the factory. There, amid bales of wadding and leather, children are hung upside down by their knees, starved, caned, or lashed. (In the interests of economy the foreman uses a lash made from scrap soccer-ball leather.) The punishment room is a standard feature of a Pakistani factory, as common as a lunchroom.

The town’s other factories are no better, and many are worse. Here are brick kilns where five-year-olds work hip-deep in slurry pits, where adolescent girls stoke furnaces in 160-degree heat. Here are tanneries where nursing mothers mix vats of chemical dye, textile mills where eight-year-olds tend looms and breathe air thick with cotton dust.

Industrialists’ view:

The industrialists’ argument is accurate only in its assertion that Pakistani children have traditionally worked with their families. But children seldom worked outside the family until the 1960s, when the Islamic Republic made a dramatic effort to expand its manufacturing base. This led to a spectacular and disproportionately large increase in the number of children working outside the home, outside the village, at factories and workshops whose owners sought to maximize profits by keeping down labor costs. The rise in child abuse was as meteoric as the rise in child labor. The children working in these factories were beyond the reach or care of their families and were increasingly the victims of industrial accidents, kidnapping, and mistreatment.

“If employers would apply as much ingenuity to their manufacturing processes as they do to evading labor laws, we’d have no child-labor problem, says the director general of the Workers Education Program, a government agency. “There’s little doubt that inexpensive child labor has fueled Pakistan’s economic growth. Entire industries have relocated to Pakistan because of the abundance of cheap child labor and our lax labor laws. At the same time, child labor has hindered our industrial development, especially in the use of advanced technologies.
The Government’s Views:

Child labor has been a mixed curse for all of southern Asia, expanding its industrial capacity while generating an unprecedented assortment of social problems. Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s leaders are of two minds on the subject. Speaking officially, they deplore the practice and have nothing but pity for the roughly 11 million children working in factories, in fields, and on the streets. Speaking pragmatically, they regard the practice as a distasteful but unavoidable part of an emerging economy that time and prosperity will end. They are quick to take offense (and quicker to take the offensive) when human-rights activists suggest that they have ignored the problem.

“Westerners conveniently forget their own shameful histories when they come here,” says Shabbir Jamal, an adviser to the Ministry of Labor. “Europeans addressed slavery and child labor only after they became prosperous. Pakistan has only now entered an era of economic stability that will allow us to expand our horizons and address social concerns. Just as we are catching up with the West in industrial development, so we are catching up in workplace and social reforms. We are accelerating the pace of reform and have resolved to create viable welfare and educational structures that will eradicate child labor in the foreseeable future.”


Behind these statistics lurks an unpleasant truth: despite its modern views on warfare and industrialization, Pakistan remains a feudal society, committed to maintaining traditions that over the centuries have served its upper castes well. The lords-factory owners, exporters, financiers–reflexively oppose any reforms that might weaken their authority, lower their profit margins, or enfranchise the workers. There is room for improvement in any society, but the industrialists in Pakistan feel that the present situation is acceptable the way it is. The National Assembly must not rush through reforms without first evaluating their impact on productivity and sales. Their position is that the government must avoid so-called humanitarian measures that harm our competitive advantages.” On those rare occasions when a reform does squeak through, the backlash is fierce. For example, when the legislature last year approved a modest tax on bricks to fund an education program, brick-kiln owners staged a ten-day nationwide protest and threatened to suspend production, crippling construction, until the tax was repealed. Trade associations have used similar strong-arm tactics to fight minimum-wage legislation, occupational-safety regulations, and trade-union activity.


Export of Child Labored Products:

IN 1992 Pakistani carpet exports fell for the first time in two decades. The fall was slight in absolute terms–no more than three or four percentage points–but it indicated that Western consumers were shying away from luxury goods made by Third World children. Carpet makers’ fears were confirmed when in 1993 and 1994 sales fell sharply in several of the largest markets for Pakistani exports. Since carpets were an important source of foreign currency, the decline sent shock waves throughout the Pakistani economy. At a 1993 conference, officials of the Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association blamed the decline on “subversive domestic organizations that are conducting misleading and false international media campaigns abroad about the use of child labor in our manufacturing processes.” The conference concluded on an optimistic note: “The memory of Western consumers is brief and our enemies’ meager resources cannot sustain their destructive campaign for much longer.”

The ILRF Research Findings
The ILO program began in late 1997.  In late 1998, the Association of Network for Community Empowerment (ANCE), based in Lahore, Pakistan, conducted an independent investigation into the effectiveness of the ILO program.  A research team visited 23 villages in the Sialkot region to determine whether or not children continued to work on soccer ball production either within village stitching centers or at home, and whether new educational opportunities had been offered to these children through the ILO program.  The team not only found that children continued to work in stitching centers in these villages, but also heard reports that a number of children had been shifted from soccer ball production to the production of surgical instruments.  The majority of child workers interviewed had never attended any educational institution.

The investigation was conducted between August and October 1998.  The ANCE researchers were known to ILRF as individuals with a history of activism on child welfare issues.  The team interviewed adult workers, child workers and residents of the villages, as well as factory owners, local officials and ILO monitoring team officials.  The research team visited 23 village stitching centers, selected at random out of several hundred in the region.  Out of these 23, they found child workers present in eight centers.  The adult workers were asked about the absence of children from the stitching centers where children were not present.  They informed the researchers that the production of soccer balls was seasonal, and that they were in the slow season.  They indicated that during peak season it was more likely that children would be brought into the centers, or that excess production would be outsourced to children in homes.  During the slow season for soccer balls, they stated that children are often sent to work in the surgical instruments industry.

The adults were asked about the presence of ILO monitors in the region.  They responded that the system of deploying ILO monitors has unwittingly created an “early warning” system for employers.  Since the ILO monitors are residents of the local communities, they are known not only to employers but also to most local residents.  Interviewees told researchers that employers are very often “tipped off” when the monitor is en route to the stitching center, and are able to hide the child workers.  Furthermore, adult workers noted that some stitching has been shifted from the centers to private homes, to which the monitors do not have access.

Another problem noted by local inhabitants was the relocation of stitching centers.  Because the ILO project has targeted the region of Sialkot, some manufacturers have relocated to other nearby districts, out of the jurisdiction of the ILO inspectors.

The research team noted that the ILO project was intended to rehabilitate child workers through the establishment of educational facilities.  However, no educational centers were found in any of the 23 villages visited.

Finally, ILRF has learned from another independent NGO observer that although 36 manufacturers have signed onto the Atlanta Agreement, to date only 16 have paid their dues and submitted information about their stitching centers.  In short, more than half the “participants” in this program appear to be free riders, benefiting from the positive publicity around the ILO program without taking a single step to eliminate child labor from their facilities!

Facts on Child Labor in Pakistan:
The ILO has issued its own mid-term assessment of its monitoring project.  The review was completed in November 1998, after the program had been in place for one year.  With six months to go, the ILO reports that the program has had the following successes:

  •   The total number of manufacturers participating in the program has expanded from 22 to 36.  However the ILO report notes that this represents only half of all soccer ball manufacturers in the Sialkot region, and only about 65 – 70 percent of all production for exports from the region.
  •   Fifty percent of all manufacturers participating in the program (e.g. 18 manufacturers) have shifted production to stitching centers monitored by the ILO.  The ILO report notes that the remaining participating manufacturers continue to outsource some production to children working at home.
  •   The program is currently monitoring 379 stitching centers, and will begin monitoring an additional 80 women-only stitching centers.  There are 15 monitors who operate in teams of two and conduct “regular, unannounced visits” to the centers.  The ILO report states that 163 children have been found at work in the centers since the program began, and that “many” of these children have been removed from the workplace and given educational opportunities.
  •   Approximately 5400 children are attending education centers established under the program.  The program has established 154 non-formal education centers.  The report notes that many of the children attending the centers continue to work part-time as soccer ball stitchers at home.



The problem of eliminating child labor from any industry is a difficult one, and that the 18-month time frame agreed to in the 1997 Partners’ Agreement may be insufficient to deal with this task.

However, it would be appropriate to highlight the following problems with the ILO program:

  • Unregulated soccer ball production in nearby districts.  Some manufacturing of soccer balls is being shifted away from Sialkot to other districts where no monitoring exists.  Manufacturers who claim to be participating in the ILO program should not be allowed to make such claims if they are in fact shifting production to other locales.  Participating manufacturers should be required to make available to all partners in the Partners’ Agreement, as well as to the ILO monitoring team, a complete list of production facilities both within and without the Sialkot region.
  •   Continued use of children by participating employers.  We are disturbed by the fact that some of the participating manufacturers are continuing to use home based child labor, even after signing the Partners’ Agreement.  This signals that the manufacturers are not truly committed to eliminating child labor.  We understand that these manufacturers have committed to eventual shifting of production to ILO-monitored centers, but see no reason why they should continue to use children in the interval.  The manufacturers should be required to provide names and addresses of individuals to whom stitching is being outsourced, so that ILO monitors can visit homes in which production is occurring and verify that children are not involved with production.
  •   Failure of the inspectors to remove identified child workers from the industry.  We are concerned by the fact that the program appears to have identified working children both through investigations of stitching centers, and also through its informal education centers, but that steps have not yet been taken to remove these children from the industry.  The report notes that several children attending the education centers are also stitching balls at home part-time.  While we understand that it may be difficult to remove a source of income from poor families before other economic opportunities have been established for them, nevertheless we are very concerned that consumers in the United States and elsewhere are being misled into believing that participants in the Partners’ Agreement have actually ceased to use child labor, whereas it is evident that they have no immediate intention to do so.
  •   No clear role for local activists.  Finally we think it is important that local advocacy groups like ANCE be encouraged to take on a role in “monitoring the monitors.”  We note that the ILO is not simply a workers’ advocacy organization, but rather a tripartite institution with responsibilities not only to workers but also equally to governments and to employers.  We note further that local employers are a major partner to the existing agreement, and that this may have limited the scope of the program.  Although Save the Children (UK) is a formal partner to the program, there appears to be no role for local labor or child welfare advocates (with the exception of Bunyad, an organization with close ties to the Pakistani government) in assessing the usefulness of the program to their goals.  We suggest that there is a need for ongoing, impartial evaluation of the program by independent NGOs in order to ensure that it is of use to local communities, and to assure consumers in other countries that children do not continue to suffer from exploitation by manufacturers.

Citizens’ Help is Needed!


It should be encouraged that concerned citizens and consumers take the following actions:

  •  Write to soccer ball retailers who have endorsed the program (a list follows) to insist that their manufacturers take part in this program, and that they upgrade efforts to eliminate child labor.  A sample letter follows.
  •   Write to the ILO to encourage them to respond to the issues raised here and to strengthen and expand their monitoring program; and most importantly, to consult regularly with local activists to make sure the program is responding to their concerns.  Encourage the ILO to suspend its plans to extend the program to India until it has succeeded in eliminating child labor in Pakistan.


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