SYLC Advocacy Post 7: Childhood Compromised

By : Momina Naveed
As part of my Peace Semester project, I chose to do research on the topic of child labour and its related dimensions, investigating why young kids are made to work, what is their own wish and why are they unable to pursue their dreams. For this purpose, I did several interviews with kids working as house help and in shops which gave me an insight into their life.
For my first interview, I spoke to a girl named Naseem who was discouraged from pursuing education just because she stutters. “My name is Naseem and I am 17 years old. I have been working since five to six years. I work at a house where I wash and press clothes, dust the furniture and sweep the floor. When I first started working, it wasn’t my choice. I wasn’t allowed to receive education because I cant speak too clearly. I speak too fast and it is therefore difficult for others to understand me. I would also disturb my mother a lot so I was sent to Lahore from my village to work. I don’t think much about education or what could have been if I had received education as I have always been told that I simply cannot pursue education because of my own limitations!”
Naseem’s story sheds light on some of the reasons why so many children are left uneducated in Pakistan. Their parents make small excuses about some minor disability they are born with and discriminate them from the rest of their siblings.While their sisters and brothers may be sent to school,they are left working day and night for something that is not their choice and neither should it be an alternate option for them instead of education. That is why it is important for us to not only educate the children but also their parents on the importance and need for education.
A somewhat similar story was told by Aisha, according to whom, working at an early age and leaving education is the biggest regret of her life. “I am 19 now but I started working at an early age which is something that still has an impact on my life. It all started when I was seven and my father left us. After that the condition of my house became very poor. In an attempt to improve our standard of living, we decided to move to Lahore from our village. We moved into the quarters of a small house and hoped for the best. I worked for two to three months and then my mother decided to put me in a school with my brother. I was in a co-school and so I would often get teased by the boys in my class. This made me dislike school a bit. My mother’s friend did the job of employing maids and servants for households. At that time, the demand for maids was increasing and so she told my mother that she should take me out of school and send me to work. She also reasoned that since I make a lot of noise in the house and cause disturbances, if I am not sent somewhere else, the owners of the quarter we lived in, will kick my entire family out. I now realize that this was just her way of making more money and unfortunately, I had to pay the price for it. I have been working ever since. I have cleaned, cooked and washed clothes.”
Aisha thinks it is impossible for her to pursue education now, even though it is her greatest wish, “If I get another chance to get education, I will surely make the most of it. However, now I have responsibilities as well. I’m 19 and I have to earn a living for myself and my family. When I had time on my hands to get educated and plan a better life for myself, I was neither wise enough nor was given the chance and now I don’t have the time. Another reason that stops me from going to school is that I will probably be the oldest in my class and that is something that I will be embarrassed about.”
Recalling her memories from school days and her dreams for her future, she said, “English used to be my favorite subject in school. I love speaking in English but I hardly know it. I wanted to be a doctor when I was little but now I know that it is not possible. I have always admired women who sit in an office and know how to use a computer. I hate my current job and I sometimes cry at night wondering how I got here.” What is most hurtful for her is the way society treats and looks at girls who work as maids, “I would rather be anything than be a servant at someone’s house. What I hate most about my job is that whenever a guest comes over and asks me who I am, I’m forced to tell them that I’m a maid.”
Exploring a different dimension of the matter, I interviewed Asif, a young boy who works as a motor mechanic,”I’m 14 years old and I work in therickshaw maintenance of rickshaws. I work day and night. I used to study but then the conditions in my home became very poor. My mother passed away when I was in grade 4 and my father re-married. My step mother wanted me to earn money for the family. So she took me out of school and sent me to work at a house. They had told my parents that I would be responsible for bringing grocery and other small work like opening the gate. However, when I started working, they made me do other work as well such as washing dishes and sweeping the floor. Then I came here to the Ustaad (teacher). I’m not happy here. I don’t like what I do.I want to study again. My favorite subject was Math and English and I was also very good at it.”
The most heart wrenching fact is the attitude of the adults, irrespective of gender, in all these cases as in each one, it was the adults who forced or manipulated their kids to go and work in such capacities. Very conveniently were kids made to sacrifice their dreams and freedom, their selves reduced merely to a means of making money. The irresponsible behaviour of the parents and financial dependence of women on men are the two major factors that harbour and nurture such attitude. While strong legislation and implementation of law is of utmost importance, creating a general awareness and a sense of responsibility towards the children of our society is equally significant.