QUETTA (By Rafiullah Mandokhail/ ENN) A 13-year-old Anar Gul works in a coal mine in Chamalang coalfield in mineral-rich Duki district of Balochistan. His father was also involved in the coal mining, but after working for almost nineteen years of mining, now he is unable to work, as he has been suffering from lung disease for the last two years. Struggling for the bread and butter, now the minor Gul works in a coalfield.
Gul says, he with other minor coalminers fills the plastic bags from the dumped coal and even loads the truck with the help of a heavy basket.
‘I give the earned money to my 54-year-old ailing father. I am very fond of studying, sometimes I even shed tears, when I see the school going children. The family’s economic constraints don’t allow me to go to school. I feel my future is as bleak as a deep coal mine is dark’, says the minor laborer while looking desperately at the pile of coal dumped outside the hundreds feet deep mine.
Gul is not alone involved in this hard business, there are hundreds of other minors with the same fate working in the coalfields of Balochistan. Gul, with the other children of this mineral-rich area, rushes to the coalfield and works there from dawn to dusk in and around. Their poor and unfortunate parents let their loved ones to work as laborers in order to earn the money and ultimately survive.
Amber Khan Yousafzai – vice president of the labour union in Duki coalfields says that the majority of children hail from poor and extended families. Those children who do not work at the mines area are scavengers and collect the pieces of coal from the huge piles of raw coal.
‘On one hand the minors earn a meager amount while on the other hand they are unaware of health hazards and they are putting their health at risk.
‘Children in the coal fields are not safe; their rights are being violated and they are vulnerable to be exploited both physically and mentally,’ he laments.
Experts say, poverty, lack of awareness are the contributing factors behind the child labor in Balochistan. The children in the coalfields are deprived of all their basic rights including education and a safe environment to work. The extended families do not have enough resources to bear the household expenses, that leads to the child labour in many parts of the province.
According to the Balochistan Shops and Establishments Act 2021, the one who has completed his or her seventeenth year of age, is called adult, while the one who has not completed eighteenth year of age is called adolescent.
Balochistan government has recently taken notice of child labor in the coal mines in Balochistan and banned children from working in the coal mines under the age of 15.
‘Children under the age of 15 will not be able to work in coal mines, moreover having a fitness certificate from a doctor is also compulsory. A 17 -year -old person must rest 12 hours in 24 hours,’ the official press release reads.
Making up almost half of the total area of Pakistan, Northwestern Balochistan is the poorest province with a fragile economy. The status of education in Balochistan has been in a dismal state for many years owing to militancy and instability in the region.
On the other hand, coalmining is one of the major industries in the province. Mines and mineral department has estimated that there are around five hundred coal mines in different areas including Duki, Chamalang, Quetta, Margat, Marwar, Khost, Surenj, Harnai and Mach, where hundreds of underage children are working in the coalmines as child labor.
All Pakistan Labour Federation estimates that in poverty-hit Balochistan, over 15,000 underage children are working at the coalfields, brick kilns, construction sites, involved in picking garbage and automobiles workshops. These children are either orphans or hailing from poor families, who are forced to work and support their families financially.
It has been learnt that the children working around the coal mines are subjected to frequent physical and mental abuse. Children working in mines experience an array of physical threats due to hazardous conditions and long working hours. Under the Coal Mines Regulations, 1926 and Mines Act 1923, a child below the age of eighteen can not work as laborer in the mining area whether it is underground, surface work.
Labour Inspector Muhammad Qasim says, as per the directives of the Chief Inspector of Mines Balochistan, the inspectors, Social Welfare department officials and the district administration’s officials are directed to inspect the coal mines. In case of any violation to the Labour laws, strict legal action would be taken against the violators.
‘The provincial government is taking strict action to end the underage labour and ensures strict implementation of the law in this regard,’ he vows.
The International Labor Organization defines that child labor refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their education. All the ILO member countries have an obligation to respect, promote and realize the abolition of child labour. Pakistan is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 as well as the ILO Conventions on minimum age for employment No. 138 – 1973, the Worst Forms of Child Labour No. 182 – 1999 and integrated elimination of child labor into National Labour Protection Framework. Pakistan is also signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals that requires member states of the UN to take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
In order to eliminate the worse form of child labour and ensure the implementation of labour laws, funded by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (UK), the Asia Regional Child Labour (ARC) Programme that initiated aims at assisting the ILO constituents and other stakeholders in Pakistan to eliminate child labour in particular the worst forms of child labour, which in turn contributes to the achievement of SDG 8.7 by 2025. The ARC project also aims at reducing vulnerability to child labour and enhancing protection of children from exploitation in Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Myanmar to contribute to the eradication of child labour, particularly its worst forms.