Livelihood at the cost of childhood
Childhood is generally one of the most enjoyable stages of a person's life, which is why childhood memories are cherished like a precious asset by most people when they reach adulthood. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about many children born and living in third world countries. They spend their childhood in the shackles of child labour, either on account of pressure on part of their parents or due to compulsions imposed by an unjust social and economic system.
Ismaeel Khan is one child who has been subjected to facing the brutalities of life rather than enjoying the pleasures of childhood. Brimming with innocence, this eight-year-old child with pink cheeks wanders around in Markaz G-9 Markaz, commonly known as Karachi Company, with a heavy box hanging on his lean shoulders, which can barely carry the load of brushes, shoe polishes and pieces of foams for shoe-shining.
Ismaeel belongs to Bajaur Agency but lives in Golra More (a rural area of the federal capital) with his family. His is the fourth among six siblings; his two elder brothers also work as vendors selling sunglasses and mobile phone set covers. Ismaeel is learning the Holy Qur’aan by heart from his mother at home but he has never been to a school.
"I manage to earn Rs50-100 a day, which I hand over to my father, who is a mason. I have lunch from a hotel which costs Rs30 and have to pay Rs20 as the cost of transportation between my home and G-9," young Ismaeel calculated in response to a query.
Ismaeel was wandering in the market in search of customers, when this correspondent approached him for a chit-chat. At first, he was reluctant to talk and avoided being questioned. "Will no one beat me," he innocently asked. "Who beats young Ismaeel Khan," one instantly started wondering, with no immediate answers coming to the mind.
Who Ismaeel is afraid of is perhaps a question, which the entire society needs to reflect upon.
In spite of having been assured that no one would harm him, barely answered only a couple of questions, mostly preferring silence.
Although very small to carry the load, the shoe-shine boy is an expert in his work. He polishes shoes efficiently in return for just Rs10. He mostly remains silent, and unlike other children condemned to the curse of child labour, is very shy too.
"I do not go to school and I am only learning the Holy Qur’aan by heart from my mother," he replied when asked if he attends a school. "My brothers, like myself, are also working," he added.
Although Ismaeel does not say much, his innocent yet highly expressive eyes ask many questions. "Where is my share of the pleasures of childhood? Who will provide me with a paper boat and rainwater to play? Why can't I sing 'Ba Ba Black Sheep' like other children of my age?"