Flood-hit children at risk of abuse and child labour
LAHORE, October 25, 2010: Representatives of the Pakistan Workers Federation, Employers Federation of Pakistan, International Labour Organisation and the media have pledged that they would continue exposing grave dangers posed to the children of poor families after the recent floods.
Speaking at a seminar on the ‘Media Awareness on Vulnerability of Use of Children in Flood-Affected Areas for Worst Form Of Child Labour’ organised by the ILO in collaboration with the Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) here, they said that though the media has a host of hot subjects to cover in the context of the country’s political situation, but still there should be space in both print and electronic media for the poor and marginalised people, particularly vulnerable segments of society such as children. They expressed concern that the children of the flood-hit families may end up in child labour.
ILO Senior Programme Officer Saifullah Chaudhry said that unfortunately 5.3 million people in the country lost their jobs and livelihoods as floods washed away their means of earning. It is feared that the children of these vulnerable families would be at risk of being pushed to child labour. He said that millions of children in the country are already in one way or the other involved child labour and the recent floods have put more in vulnerable situation. He urged the media to play its due role and do not let the flood-affected children and their families off from its radar so that they could be protected and get access to rehabilitation plans and schemes.
Saifullah Chaudhry said that taking the media on board as its strategic partner, the ILO has continuously been working with journalists to apprise them of the child labour situation emerging in the country and in building their capacity for covering the child labour and overall labour issues in the country. He said that the ILO has conducted a series of seminars and workshops for the media on these serious subjects.
Employers Federation of Pakistan President Haji Muhammad Javed appreciated the role of the ILO and the media in raising the voice of the children put up in labour. He said that their organisation, in collaboration with the ILO, has started a ‘Cash-for-Work’ programme for the flood-affected people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa so that they could build their homes and get money for this work to feed their families. The programme is helping them in coming out of trauma and frustration and barring them to put their children in hazardous work.
Daily ‘Dawn’ Chief Reporter Nasir Jamal called upon reporters to file stories on people’s issues, including child labour, as these are the areas on which they need to report more to fulfil their social and professional responsibilities. These stories may not get space on front and back pages, however, they may get space on inside pages. Sometimes stories on child labour may not appear at all, but if reporters continue to report and follow up stories on the neglected and marginalised segments of society, one day such stories would certainly be in the media.
Nasir Jamal said that no doubt political and economic coverage dominates the media space but this seminar has provided journalists a chance to renew their pledge not to ignore social and development issues and people’s stories as they are mandated to protect the rights of people, particularly those who hardly have any access to the media space. He said that with gradual receding of the effects of floods, the media coverage of floods has also gone down “but each one of us need to continue writing stories other than politics.” He said that journalists should highlight hazards posed to children due to the worst forms of child labour and on issues of poverty, which perpetuates situation in which parents withdraw children from schools and put them into child labour or send them to seminaries for free education.
A senior journalist of ‘The News,’ Ms Alefia T Hussain, called for adopting a new approach in the media reporting. She said that journalists should come out of the tradition of picking only failure stories. They should instead file success stories telling how the people learnt to survive. “This new approach will help reduce negativism from our media scene.”
Shaista Malik of the JDHR said that her organisation is committed to creating more media space for the neglected people to highlight their issues and amplify their voices through the network of socially responsible and committed journalists. She said that the JDHR, being a countrywide network of journalists, strives for bringing child labour and other issues of human rights on the agenda of the Pakistani media. She thanked all for their participation and presentations.
Shaista Malik also presented a slideshow on flood-affected children between the age bracket of 5 and 15. She said that the stories behind the pictures of children in the presentation depict that scarcity of food had made their families vulnerable to hunger. The pictures showed young children displaced by floods and facing harsh living conditions in relief camps. Their family incomes had dropped drastically and these children were at risk of being put into child labour.
The major objective of the seminar was to encourage the media to highlight the need for protecting the flood-affected children from becoming victims of the worst forms of child labour. It highlighted the need to protect these children from all sorts of dangers -- being kidnapped, forced to work in inhuman conditions and their inclination towards drugs or getting involved with terror recruiters who were always on the lookout for the young. To meet these objectives, a large number of professional journalists took part in the seminar.