Pakistan emerged on the world map in 1947 after getting independence from the British colonialists, the new state came into being with a dream. A dream where human potential would flourish, where an egalitarian society would be set up to raise the bar for everyone else to follow. However about 70 years later the nation state is now struggling to steer clear from the path of self destruction.
Pakistan is in many ways the land of unfulfilled promises, the land where flowers wither away before blooming. The state came into being with a promise of leading the developing nations, to some extent we came close to our goal during the 60`s. But since then our slump towards darkness has become steeper with every passing year.
Why? One of the most basic driving factors for development is to invest upon the youth. When you talk about countries and nations, development is akin to a relay race. One generation alone cannot accomplish the task, it takes multiples generations simply to set up a firm base to build upon and thus without investing the resources upon the future generations a nation state cannot hope to achieve substantial success. Development and progress as we have seen in the last century, are exponential. First step is the hardest and longest, the steps which follow become consequentially easier and quicker.
If however, instead of investing upon the future generations, we turn them into cheap labour right from a very young age then we effectively obstruct the path of our own development. The children who should have been in school learning science, maths, religion, arts and culture, the youth who should have been in colleges and universities learning more about their chosen fields of interest have been made redundant by being denied the chance and opportunity to learn and instead due to the oppressive nature of the society we live in, they have been forced into bonded and slave labour.
Over 60% of our population lives under Rs 300 a day or Rs 9000 per month. How can an average family make their ends meet at this low level of income? As a result the unfortunate children of around 60% of the families are born into circumstances which they will never be able to escape. They are born into a straitjacket with a predetermined path of life, by the age of 7-8 they enter bonded labour to earn a living. The constitution offers compulsory education but only on paper, the public sector schools are redundant in Pakistan because certainly education is not our priority. Child labour is illegal under the constitution but then again the whole constitution has been in a state of suspension since it was written.
The government however cannot be absolutely blamed for everything. Pakistan has had the problem of child labour since her inception, the lack of government will to eradicate it is just one side of the picture, the other grim side is that the society in general doesn`t want to eradicate child labour. A general observation of our society is that the affluent households employ maids and workers who are often underage. This practice is common in “affluent households” who send their own children to the best educational institutions and yet employ underage maids for their own service. We take our expensive cars to the mechanic for repairs where underage children are forced to work as apprentice by the side of the mechanics, yet our hearts do not feel the painful cries of their suffocating childhood. Will you send your 8 year old child to work at a car repair shop? To get their hands and faces dirty with automotive oil, to breath in the toxic fumes and learn alongside the mechanics who sometimes abuse the children in ways which would make you lose your sleep for days?
One justification which is put forth most commonly is that the children have no other alternative. Their parents cannot afford the expenses of education, so they are forced by their circumstances to send underage children to work. Child labour thus becomes a necessary evil, a slow poison which will eventually debilitate us in the long run. Like taking a rose and crushing it, except that the rose hasn`t bloomed into a flower yet, it is still inside its seed waiting for its time, waiting for the warmth of mother earth and nourishment which it will never get, because the seed has been trampled upon.
This argument, is to some extent understandable and it renders all counter arguments as null and void. This unfortunately is the dark and oppressive reality of our society. The so called educated class is itself, perhaps unknowingly suffocating the very future of this nation by not realizing that God has given them the power and resources to change someone`s life. Yes, there is a way forward but it will only work if the educated middle class takes it upon themselves to change the fate of this nation.
Child labour has become a necessity and thus cannot be eliminated over night, but its disastrous long term effects can be eliminated if every household which employs maids can take the responsibility of bearing the educational expenses of at least one child. It can be the child of their own maid or perhaps that underage child who cleans their dishes. If God has blessed someone with enough money to employ a maid, then He will bless them with more if they take up their education expenses and make sure that they do not wash dishes their whole life. Desperate times call for desperate measures, we know the government won`t take corrective and preventive measures any time soon in our lifetime, so why not do whatever we can in our limited capacity to change one life at a time?
At the very least, if we cannot do anything to support them financially thus eliminating the need to waste their childhood, we can all at the very least treat them with kindness and respect they deserve. Whenever you come across an under age child working to earn a living, don`t treat them like they are inferior to you. Be kind to them and communicate, make them feel like they are a part of this society and perhaps one day their fate will change. A small act of kindness can work a lot of wonders.
This however does not change writing on the wall which says “Our future appears dark”. In the long term government policies define the course a nation takes and as of this moment our policies are aimed at self destruction. With absolutely minimum investment upon the youth we are set on a path where majority of our youth is going to lack the intellectual means to compete with other nations. Brain drain has already severely affected our growth, now imagine brain drain coupled with a drought of enlightened, skilled and capable workforce. Recipe for disaster right? So what are we looking for in the dark? Every government promises to make Pakistan a regional game changer but no one has ever done or even said anything to cement our foundations, to give our future generations a fighting chance in a world which is taking quantum leaps everyday. We need to work upon our youth and upon the coming generations if we wish to register our name in the list of nations who contributed towards the human endeavor.
If there is any hope for the future, it lies with the youth as the founder of this nation state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in his final message on 11 September 1948: