Akmal.doc - Lahore School of Economics

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Akmal.doc - Lahore School of Economics

     Akmal Hussain 59

    Child Workers

    ;In Hazardous Industries in Pakistan

    Akmal Hussain


     This paper is the first systematic attempt at understanding the nature and extent of hazards faced by child workers in the construction and related industries, which perhaps are not only growing more rapidly but have far greater hazards than any other set of occupations in which children are employed.

     This study is based on a field survey of 400 child workers in 200 small-scale establishments in Lahore. Section I places the study in the overall perspective of child work in Pakistan. An estimate of the total number of child workers in the country is made, the latest legislation on child labour discussed and the working conditions of children in the major occupations are analysed. Section II is devoted to a discussion of the specific working conditions of children in the construction and related industries, based on gleaning the available secondary sources. In Section III the evidence of our own field survey which is focussed on the issue of hazards faced by working children in the construction and related industries is presented. The major hazards in addition to sexual abuse and employer violence against child workers are examined on the basis of quantitative data. The numbers of casualties resulting from each type of hazard and in each type of industry are indicated. An attempt is made to construct a standardised index of hazards so as to assess the degree to which

    a particular hazard is lethal. Similarly, a standardised Danger

    Index is constructed to enable us to assess the degree to which

    a particular industry is dangerous with respect to work safety risk and accidents. Section III also analyses the survey data on wages and age groups of child workers, the income of their families, their family status and employer education.

     ; An earlier version of this paper was submitted to the International Labour Organization Geneva, Switzerland on October 1, 1992, and included as an annexure in my book titled: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan.

60 The Lahore Journal of Economics, Vol.2, No.2

     The paper ends with Section IV with a discussion on a three fold policy response and action that needs to be urgently undertaken in view of the survey findings.

    I. Child Workers in National Perspective

    The Question of Numbers

     A range of studies has provided quite different estimates of the number of working children in Pakistan. The UNICEF 1992 1Study puts forward the figure of 2.01 million working children, while acknowledging that it may be underestimated. This figure from the 1981 Population Census reports 2.01 million children between the ages of 10 to 14 years as working. Similarly, the 2earlier UNICEF (1992) Study estimates that 21.5 per cent of the

    child population in the 10 to 14 age group were working which means 2.7 million working children (Given the 1981 Census figure of 11.1 million for child population in the 10 - 14 age group). Both these estimates are unreliable for two reasons:

    (a) The Census figure for working children is likely to be

    incorrect, since the respondents are male heads of

    household who are likely to conceal the number of their

    children at work for fear of legal action against them. (b) The figure for working children is drawn from the age group

    10 - 14, while a significant proportion of working children

    may be in the age group 5 to <10.

     A far better estimate is the one made by the Planning Commission. According to this estimate, there are 8 million working 3children in Pakistan. While this figure may have to some overcome extent the downward reporting bias for working children that is inherent to the Census methodology, yet it is still an underestimate since it does not include working children in the age group 5 to < 10. I have attempted to cautiously improve the Planning Commission estimate to overcome this bias, and the figure for

     1 UNICEF/Government of Pakistan: “Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Pakistan”, 1992. 2 UNICEF (Punjab Programme Office): “Preliminary. Study and Survey on Health Hazards and Working Children”, December 1992. 3 “National Programme of Action for the Goals for Children and Development in the 1990's”, Government of Pakistan, Planning Commission, (Not dated).

     Akmal Hussain 61

    working children in the age group 5 to < 15 totals 8.65 million in the 4year 1990.

    The New Legislation on Child Work and Employment

     After signing the 1990 International Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government of Pakistan repealed the obsolete Employment of Children Act 1938, and enacted a new law called the Employment of Children Act 1991. This law has four parts.

     Part I of the 1991 Act defines children as persons below the age of 14 (which is at variance with the Convention which regards all persons below 18 as children).

     Part II of the 1991 Act prohibits the employment of children in any occupation or process related to transport or ancillary operations, the manufacture of matches, crackers and fireworks, biris (which consists of tobacco rolled into a leaf), carpets, cement, cloth dyeing and weaving, mica, soap, wool cleaning, building and construction, slate pencils (making and packing), agate products and toxic substances such as pesticides, chromium, benzene asbestos, etc. However, the catch is that the above prohibition exempts cases where any of these hazardous occupations are carried on by a person with the help of his family members.

     Part III of the 1991 Act permits child employment in

    occupations other than those mentioned above and attempts to regulate the conditions of work of children. Thus they are prohibited from working between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.; the maximum working hours permitted are seven, with a break of at least one hour after three hours of continuous work. No overtime is allowed, nor is a child allowed to take up two jobs simultaneously. A working child is entitled to at least one weekly holiday. All establishments employing children are required by this law to notify the government about the nature of work and working conditions. These establishments are expected to conform to health and safety

     4 My estimate uses the Population Census figure for children in the age group 5 to 9, then estimates the number of children in this age group below the poverty line on the basis of Ercelawn's national average figure of 40 percent (1990). Then number of working children in this age group is estimated by applying the Planning Commission ratio of 12 percent to the category of poor children in this age group. The working children in this age group are then added on to the Planning Commission figure of working children in the age group 10 to 14.

62 The Lahore Journal of Economics, Vol.2, No.2

    standards prescribed by the government and to ensure clean and hazard-free working conditions for children.

     Part IV of the 1991 Act prescribes penalties for breaches of any of the provisions of the Act by employers. These include imprisonment for a period extending to one year and a fine of upto twenty thousand Rupees. While these penalties are more severe than those provided under the earlier child labour legislation, yet they are mild when we consider the impact on the health, safety and psyche of the child when the provisions are violated. Moreover, they are not enforceable against family members and unregistered establishments.

     Manufacturing units employing less than ten persons on a regular basis do not fall within the definition of factories and are not regulated by the Factories Act. Thus, while the new Employment of Children Act of 1991 may at best help reduce the number of children employed in hazardous occupations in the formal sector, it is unable to do anything about children employed in unregistered establishments in the informal sector where the overwhelming proportion of working children are actually employed.

    Working Conditions of Children in Major Occupations

     Since the statistics on child workers reflect mainly the numbers in wage employment, child workers in the agricultural sector do not find an adequate place in quantitative estimates. Yet children working alongside their families in agricultural operations such as seed bed preparations, fodder cutting, rice transplanting, weeding and harvesting may constitute the majority of working children in Pakistan. Such children are increasingly exposed without protective devices to toxic substances in pesticides and 5fertilizers. There is now evidence that indiscriminate use of pesticides, many of which are banned in the advanced industrial countries, are responsible for growing health hazards in countries such as Pakistan. For example, during the last decade, 25 percent of pesticides exported to developing countries (including Pakistan) from the U.S. were banned or unregistered in the U.S.

    Consequently, although developing countries account for only one

     5 See: Akmal Hussain, “Women, Environment and Development”. Paper presented to the Centre for Research and Management, Islamabad, February 12, 1991.

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    sixth of the pesticides users, the rate of poisoning there is 13 times 6as great as in the U.S.

     Another dimension of the hazards to which rural child workers are exposed, arises from the production conditions in agriculture: The traditional ties of dependence of poor peasants on landlords in large parts of Punjab and Sindh have been reinforced 7by cash indebtedness following the Green Revolution.

    Children of poor peasant families are often subjected to extra economic coercion. They are in many cases made to work without money wages, as domestic servants in the landlords manor

    where they are frequently subjected to humiliation, beating and abuse.

     In the urban and semi-urban areas, most of the working children are employed in small scale unregistered establishments in the informal sector where the employers can easily evade the legislative protections granted to working children with respect to protection against hazardous occupations and working hours. While the number of children in the large-scale formal sector may have declined, yet even here child work persists to a significant extent by means of the "Contract System". Under this system children remain employees of a contractor in the informal sector while actually working in larger industries, as a device to avoid the 8law.

     Research on child labour in Pakistan is a recent undertaking, and began with a study (Hussain 1986) based on a survey of working children in Lahore in ten occupations where children below 9age 15 were the predominant element in the work force. This

    study examined the economic and social conditions of working children for the first time in Pakistan. The study showed that children were typically working 54 to 72 hours per week for an average monthly income (cash plus benefits in kind) of Rs. 322. The study also provided evidence on the levels of education of working children, their attitude towards education, frequency of

     6 Catherine Canfield: “Pesticides Exporting Death”, New Scientist, August 16, 1984. 7 For a detailed analysis of this issue see: Akmal Hussain: “ Technical Change and Social Polarization in Rural Punjab”, in Strategic Issues in Pakistan's Economic Policy,

    Progressive Publishers, Lahore, 1988. 8 “Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Pakistan”, UNICEF, 1992, Page 84. 9 Akmal Hussain: Economic Growth, Poverty and the Child. Paper presented at the Harvard Conference on Who speaks for the Child, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, August 1986. Published in Strategic Issues, op. cit.

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    play, their ambitions, their contribution to family income and their wages and benefits by age group and industry. The Hussain (1986) 10study was followed by the UNICEF (1990) Quetta study on Child

    Labour. Unlike the earlier Lahore survey, the Quetta Survey indicated some of the hazards that child workers in various occupations face. It pointed out, for example, that inhalation of wool dust by children exposed them to risk of respiratory diseases, tuberculosis and prolonged work in a squatting posture resulted in leg and spine deformities. Similarly, child workers in steel and iron workshops were exposed to lead poisoning, tetanus, eye diseases while a total of 35 accidents were reported by the study during the year. A more recent study (1990) of 26 small establishments in Lahore showed that all of them employed one or more child under 15 years of age. These work places posed at least one and often several hazards to the health of the child workers, including respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and silicosis, ophthalmic disorders, mental retardation, damage to various body 11organs and cancer.

    II. Conditions of Working Children in Construction and

    Related Industries (Secondary Sources).

     There are probably more children working in construction related industries than in construction per se, mainly because work on construction sites (such as carrying bricks, or mixing cement) requires the strength of an adult, or skills (where automatic

    construction equipment and earth moving equipment is being increasingly used). However, children continue to be employed on building sites and function through an adult contractor in order to avoid the Law. The most important construction related industries

    where children are employed are brick manufacture (including tiles), cement, steel windows, furnishing (including carpet knotting) and electrification. There is no study so far that examines the question of hazards for working children in the construction and related industries as a whole at the micro level, let alone the national level. However, a few micro level studies some of them based on casual

     10 UNICEF (1990), Manzooruddin Ahmad; “Child Labour, A Time to Reflect”. 11 Study by Nishtar Medical College, Multan, cited in: “Discover the Working Child”,

    1990, UNICEF, Islamabad.

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    empiricism, others based on small surveys, do exist for individual 12 occupations such as brick kilns and carpet knotting.

     UNICEF estimates that at least 250,000 children work on brick kilns. A guestimate by the Brick Kiln Owners Federation

    puts forward a figure of 6,000 brick kilns in Pakistan, with an 13average of 25 families per site. These families who live on the

    sites are locked into a dependency relationship with the owner which is akin to bonded labour. The indebtedness occurs through the Peshgi system under which the labourer borrows from the owner to fulfil his familys consumption requirements. The loan,

    which the owner readily gives, functions as a trap, because it persists across generations due to high interest charges, manipulation of books, and low wages. During the period of Peshgi

    repayment (which in many cases is intergenerational) the family are virtual prisoners of the kiln owners and need special permission (not often granted) to leave the premises even for a short period. Physical abuses including rape of women and abduction have been reported. The study on working children in the brick kilns of Sindh notes that the children witness the cruel treatment of their parents by the owners, and grow up in an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and subjugation, which has a long lasting effect on their personality development. Interviews with parents and observation of children provide evidence of malnutrition, skin diseases due to contact with clay, dust and exposure to intense heat, as well as respiratory 14infections. Another study in NWFP showed that child workers in the brick industry suffered 50 percent more chronic chest infections 15 than their counterparts in neighbouring villages.

     A detailed survey based sample study on child workers in the carpet industry in Punjab suggests that over 80 percent of the carpet workers in Punjab are children below age 15 years, 16including 30 percent under 10 years. The majority of carpets are

     12 See for example: Y. Mitha et. al: “Bonded Labour in the Brick Kiln Industry”; S. Rehmatullah and M. Hassan: “Children at Risk, Children Working in Brick Kilns”; UNICEF (1990) / Institute of Social Research and Development: “Children Working on Brick Kilns in Sindh”; S. A. Awan and Abdil Ali Khan: “Child Labour in Carpet Weaving Industry in Punjab”. 13 UNICEF: “Discover the Working Child”, op. cit., page 16. 14 “Children Working on Brick Kilns in Sindh”, Institute of Social Research and

    Development, Karachi, 1990. 15 UNICEF: “Discover the Working Child” ... op. cit., page 16. 16 Saeed A. Awan and Abid Ali Khan: “Child Labour in Carpet Weaving Industry in Punjab”.

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    knotted at home in carpet weaving villages on a sub-contract basis, while some are made in private centres, factories and a small number in government workshops. 70 percent of the families in the survey sample had taken an advance in return for carpet weaving at home. In most cases the families had failed to pay back the loan within a reasonable time period, and found that they had to continue weaving carpets indefinitely into the future through their children's work.

     A majority of the children work more than eight hours a day at the loom with no one working less than six hours. 90 percent of the children earned an average salary of between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 per month.

     The children work in poorly lit and poorly ventilated rooms. All the children surveyed had suffered from fingertip injuries. Other health problems include backache, respiratory diseases and low grade fever indicating chronic infection. 70 percent of the children reported being beaten by parents and employers if they tried to avoid work.

     The UNICEF Quetta study mentions hazards faced by

    working children in a qualitative fashion as one element in its wide ranging discussion. The only survey based study hitherto available which attempts to focus on hazards in industrial

    sectors/establishments employing children, is a 1990 UNICEF Study titled: Preliminary Study and Survey of Health Hazards and Working Children. Although the focus of the study is not on working children in construction and related industries but on industries in Lahore employing children, yet it is useful in that it attempts to assess the incidence of hazardous activities in the sample industries. The study points out that in the absence of protective devices and adequate ventilation, working children handle and/or breathe toxic substances resulting in a range of health dangers. For example, in paint industries the handling of chemicals, mixing and dilution of paints, filling, sealing, labeling and storage is done with bare hands and exposed face. Consequently, the children come into frequent skin contact with toxic chemicals such as pigments, dyes, and thinners. Moreover, poor ventilation results in children inhaling toxic fumes from solvents. The disease symptoms resulting from such exposures are coughing, skin dehydration and ophthalmic disorders. Prolonged exposure creates the danger of respiratory diseases, serious ophthalmic disorders, liver, kidney and stomach cancer. In the glass industry, which may be regarded

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    as a construction-related industry (since it also manufactures windowpanes), the child workers are exposed to fine silica sand and high heat from the glass melting furnaces, as well as carbon monoxide. Long exposure to these substances can result in tuberculosis and pneumoconiosis.

     In the furniture manufacturing industry the children are exposed to toxic solvents contained in polishing materials. They breathe solvent vapours in poorly ventilated workshops. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals can cause respiratory and ophthalmic diseases as well as persistent brain and body sluggishness. III. Child Workers in Construction and Related Industries:

    Evidence from the Field Survey.


     The survey was designed to investigate two inter-related dimensions of child work in the construction and related industries. First, to discover the nature, extent and impact of occupational health and safety risks; second to specify the pattern of child employment across these industries with respect to age groups of children, wage and education level of the child workers, their family status, and the education level of their employers. In the pursuit of these objectives the survey questionnaire was designed so as to enable identification of the specific hazards in each industry, and the number of casualties (injuries and deaths last year) resulting from each type of hazard in each industry. The wage levels, age and education level of the respondents was recorded together with their family status, family income and education level of their employer.

     A total of 200 work places or establishments in seven industries were identified for investigation, with the sample size of respondents being 400 (approximately two respondents were interviewed in each workplace). The number of workplaces (and hence number of respondents) assigned to each industry was based on the Quota Sampling Technique. This is a non-probability equivalent of stratified sampling. This technique was used to enable control of non-response bias in the survey. The target population was sub-divided into groups of workplaces/individuals likely to have a homogeneous nature of work related hazards in each sub-group. In the sampling procedure the major strata relevant for the study were identified and then quotas assigned to

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    each stratum according to their approximate proportionate representation in the population. (The latter was based on judgement arrived at after initial field visits which were more extensive than the ones at the interview stage). Accordingly, 58 workplaces (approximately 116 respondents) were specified for the construction industry, 48 workplaces (approximately 96 respondents) in steel window manufacture, 35 workplaces (70 respondents) in the white washing industry, 23 workplaces (46 respondents) in electrification, 17 workplaces (34 respondents) in furnishing, 11 workplaces (22 respondents) in tiles and eight workplaces (16 respondents) in the cement industry. To bring out the full range of hazards at the workplaces visited and their precise nature, the respondents' information was supplemented by information provided by the interviewers on the basis of personal

    investigation and visual check of each workplace.

    Analysis of Data

     The data shows that there were 16 different kinds of hazards at the workplace with air pollution being by far the hazard most frequently reported by the respondents. See Table 3. Air pollution includes high levels of carbon monoxide, unburnt carbon particles and silica particles in the air (in tiles manufacture), toxic solvent vapours from paints dyes and thinners, sulphur compounds in varnish solvents used in furniture manufacture, corrosive acid fumes and cyanide in the air, and carcinogenic fumes of vinyl chloride gas.

     Table 1 presents the full range of hazards reported, and the percentage of respondents reporting each hazard. This table shows that 30 percent of the respondents report air pollution at workplace followed by dangerous building structure of workplace (reported by 11.1 percent of the respondents), and excessive working hours (9 percent). It may be mentioned here that where accidents occur they usually happen near the end of the workday when the child worker has low concentration and poor body coordination due to acute fatigue. So that casualties reported due to hazards such as insufficient light, or proximity of worker to badly insulated electricity wires, may be causally linked with this fatigue factor. Handling toxic chemicals, intensive heat and glare and uncovered manholes in the workplace are also reported by a significant percentage of total respondents interviewed (see Table 1).

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