Just another day for PU child workers

LAHORE, May 2(Daily Times): The majority of workers employed at Punjab University canteens, hostels and shops are under the age of 18.

The child labourers, mostly hailing from villages and towns across the Punjab, work up to 12-hour days, seven days a week at monthly wages ranging from Rs 1,200 to Rs 3,000.

They are given a week's leave after three or four months on the job, and are also usually granted leave for Eid and other public holidays when university shops are closed. On Labour Day, child labourers were found busy at their respective jobs on campus. These children work as canteen boys and helpers at fruit shops, hostel messes, general stores, restaurants, etc. Aged between 8 and 18, these children roam through the hostels and up and down three floors to deliver orders. They have no health cover and receive no education.

"What else can we do if we don't have any proper means to live? After all, we have to work to survive," Waseem, a 12-year-old boy working at a fruit shop on the university premises said. He said that he runs the shop with his brother and father. "Neither my brother nor I want to study because we want to help feed our family," he added.

Twelve-year-old Iqbal, who works at a samosa stall, said he was sent from his home in Shorkot by his father to find work and earn money. "How can I get an education in this situation?" he asked.

The father of an eight-year-old boy who works in the canteen of boys' hostel number 16, Hazrat Ali Hall, said that he had insisted that his son go to school, but as the child was not interested in studies, he asked him to then work instead.

A shopkeeper at the university, Shahbaz said that the practice of hiring children should be eliminated from the university. He said that it is very disturbing as the children have no health cover, are not privy to educational facilities, and have to work for very nominal wages. He added that the children are often also scolded by their employers and sometimes by university students as well. Many of the children employed at the university, on the other hand, told that students are sympathetic and often ask about their family's situation and why they are working instead of studying.

"Child labour at the university is not new. It been witnessed for the past several years," said an owner of a campus shop. "However, it is the university that needs to take solid steps, otherwise desperate families will continue to send their kids to avail earning opportunities at the campus." PU registrar Prof Dr Muhammad Naeem Khan said most of the children working on campus were relatives of canteen owners and other adult workers. "There are very few children working at the university campus, and every effort is made to provide them with educational facilities. They are all well taken care of," Khan said.

Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, which requires countries to protect children from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous to or to interfere with the child's education, health, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

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