Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Ali and his younger brother Noor alias Tora who is 13 years old, have had enough experience after years of toil to work as skilled workers at a gloves manufacturing unit in a residential unit     in the Korangi Industrial Area. Eight years ago, their father, who himself was a daily-wage labourer, had died and they were left with no option but to work in factories at a very early age to earn their bread and butter.

Tora was only five years old when this tragedy hit his family and he along with his elder brother started working in the gloves manufacturing unit and were paid Rs10 each   a week. Their ‘Ustad’, who is their employer as well, has installed six gloves stretching machines at this unit where dozens of other workers work besides them to earn their livelihood. As both    are now    trained enough, their Ustad has appointed them as ‘Karigar’ and   each one of them is paid Rs3,000 per week. The two teenaged brothers, who belong to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP)    can now easily manage to rent a house in Bilal Colony at Rs3,500 per month where they live with their aging mother and a younger sister.

Ali       and Tora are not the only adolescent children who work for industrial units as ‘workers.’ There are countless other teenagers who are contributing their share towards the industrial sector. All these children have one thing   in common and that is extreme poverty which forces them to start work as labourer in some industries.

On paper, there is no child labour in Pakistan but literally hundreds of industries, especially the tanneries, textile and carpet industries in the metropolis, have employed thousands of children as workers due to the cheap labour they provide. Many industrialists have been converting their industries from the formal to the informal sector for the last of two years and they have opened countless small factory outlets in residential units where they not only get cheap electricity but cheap labour in the form of children.

Bilal Colony and Gulzar Colony are the two residential areas of KIA where thousands of children work at home-based small industrial units.   The leather garment manufacturers have opened around 250 small industrial units in Bilal Colony where a large number of children are engaged in the manufacturing process.  These home-based industrial units have from five to 50 stretching machines and most of these units manufacture export quality leather gloves and some other leather garments. The child workers who work in these industrial units belong to an age group of eight to 16 and many of them are paid as little as Rs100 per week when they start work. These children often work as assistants to adult workers and learn the art of stretching leather gloves. When get experience in the stretching of leather garments, they are paid up to Rs400 to Rs500 per week.

Most of these children work at these industries with the consent of their parents who believe that they would acquire a skill and start   earning about Rs5,000 per week after becoming supervisors.Due to extreme poverty, which is growing everyday due to various factors including the increase in electricity rates and price of petroleum products, many parents cannot afford to send their children to schools to gain a formal education. While some parents can afford paying for their children’s education, they still believe that it would be useless to send   their children to schools when at the end of the day there would be no jobs for them.

The phenomenon of shifting industrial work to residential units is relatively new and started in earnest just a couple of years ago. Some NGOs and     foreign importers of the products by manufactured in the units have been demanding that no child labour should be involved in the manufacturing process otherwise they would not place orders. To get their businesses camouflaged, some industrialists simply their    units to less visible residential units.

Besides leather garments some textile-based small industries have also been shifted to Bilal Colony and other residential units of KIA including Mehran Town, Sharifabad and others where different hosiery items are prepared. Most of children who work at these small textile units do cropping work of hosiery items. They cut the extra threads on the towels and other items and give a finishing touch to the products which are later packed for selling. Generally, all the family members, including the women and the children, participate in the industrial activity and they are paid Rs15 to Rs30 for      every 100 items. The hard labour provided the entire day generally adds up      to Rs200 for the entire family in this field.    

Ibrahim Hyderi, which is situated near Korangi Crossing, is a place where thousands of children both male and famale are engaged in manufacturing carpets. According to an estimate, some 200 families, mostly Bengalis, are engaged in this business with their teenager children.This specific industry prefers to employ children        from the age of 10 to 14 to manufacture the carpets to get higher rates for the finished products in the international market. The smaller fingers which the kids have ensure a better finish for      the carpets which have a higher demand and sell at higher rates. Mostly these children are ‘bought’ on an annual basis and their families are paid Rs10,000 for a year of the ‘forced labour’ in advance.The industrialists promise the families of free accommodation and a free meal when the deal to hire the services of these adolescent workers is being finalised.

All such activity is being   carried out     under the     nose of the Labour Department which is responsible to check and control such illegal activities. Deputy General Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Nasir Mansoor said    it is a tragedy that the formal sector is being speedily converted into the informal sector in Pakistan. He said according to some reliable surveys, 60 percent of the total workforce works for the informal sector in the country. He said in the informal sector, all the family members, including the children, provide labour  but these workers are not even considered as workers.Mansoor said that an adult labourer may demand his due rights from his employer but there is no as such threat for the industrialists when they hire children as workers.

He said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had passed its Child Protection Bill three years ago but such practises in Pakistan continue to go unchecked. He said the Child Cell of the Labour Department of Sindh is also responsible for providing protection to children engaged in industrial labour.He said illegal immigrant workers can always be more easily harassed and they can be forced to work irrespective of age     or wages in the industrial sector.


There  is a lot of talk about male street children whose number is growing by the day in the metropolis but fewer people talk about teen aged girls who happen to run away from their homes due to numerous reasons. One can observe thousands of adolescent male kids scattered around the city     who live in groups on the streets for their survival. However, teen aged girls are rarely seen on the streets although a large number of such girls also run away from homes due to a variety of reasons ranging from domestic violence, to forced marriages to a search of more ‘glamorous’ lives    which they    cannot find in their homes due to their poverty-stricken backgrounds.Once these girls commit ‘the sin’ of running away from their homes they soon reach a point of no return and finally  ‘disappear’ for good.

 There is no reliable data on how many girls have   left home and how many of them have taken refuge at some shelter homes. However, one thing that they have in common is that they don’t live on the streets like male street children. Initially, such young girls can be found near the Cantonment station or at shrines of saints in Karachi where they    can get two square meals. Afterwards, their whereabouts become uncertain and they often ‘disappear’ mysteriously. 

This is the fate of Guriya, who had left her home due to frequent bouts of domestic violence. A few days ago, 14-year-old Guriya left her home   in  Muzaffargarh in southern Punjab and took a train to reach Karachi. After reaching here, she had no idea where to go and someone told her to take shelter at the Mazar of Abdullah Shah Ghazi   in Clifton. When the volunteers of an NGO interviewed her she told them that she had     left home as her parents used to force her to work at a place where she was tortured again and again for no reason. After some time when the volunteers tried to approach her again to provide her some assistance she had disappeared from the scene. Now nobody knows where the girl is and how she can be traced.

Sumbal is another young girl who belongs of Karor Paka (Bahwalpur district)who also left  home due to a variety of reasons. Fifteen-year-old Sumbal was lucky enough to be handed over to the shelter home of a noted welfare organization. She reached Karachi in August last year    by train as someone had befriended her on the phone and had told her that he was an officer of a high grade. This unknown person had convinced her to come to Karachi so that they could start a new life together.She reached Cantonment station according to his advise but she was left bewildered when did not find him at the station.

The Madadgar at the railway police also made an entry of this case and finally she was handed over to the shelter home.

Often, young persons leave their home alone to for the sake of adventure and to explore the bright lights of a big city. Some times, a number of the young members of the same family leave their home for this purpose. Fourteen-year-old Abdul Rahman, 12-year-old Sarfraz and 13-year-old    Jafar are brothers belonging to a Burmese family and who live in the street on Shah Jalal Chowk in Machhar Colony.These children left their home some six years ago because they suffered frequent bouts of violence on the part of their father.

They never went to school due to the extremely poor background of their family and their mother is the sole    bread earner of a large household. She works in the prawn cleaning industry while her husband does nothing to earn a livelihood. There is just one thing which he does regularly and that is to bea this wife almost every day over petty issues.The three brothers got fed up with this domestic violence and one day they decided to run away from home with the streets of the metropolis their ultimate destinations.

Abdul Rahman and Sarfraz live together at Daupota Road whereas Jafar prefers to live on the streets of Clifton where he makes a living by being a commercial sex worker.Both Abdul Rahman and Sarfraz are good at painting and drawing but it is obviously not too helpful a skill for earning a livelihood.

Sarfraz has found shelter in drugs to get rid of the harshness of his life and one can observe him on most days in a state of intoxication intoxicated achieved by sniffing Samad Bond to drown his sorrows.

According to President of Initiator Human Development Foundation, Rana Asif Habib, all these young kids are victims not only of domestic violence and poverty but also of global progress. He said the glitz and glamour portrayed in TV dramas often provokes some impressionable young children to explore adventures outside of their poverty stricken homes.He said besides large number of young boys, young girls also escape from their homes due to various reasons but unfortunately their cases go unchecked.

He adds that generally the runaway cases of young girls are not even reported to the police to avoid family embarrassment.He claimed many such boys eventually adopt the philosophy of ‘survival of the fittest’ but girls cannot do this due to their socialisation and societal taboos.

He believes NGOs should focus more attention       on cases of runaway girls as well so that some measures could be taken to address this vital issue as well.

— By Qadeer Tanoli

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