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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan wants action on child labour

Some estimates say as many as 10 million children work

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, has called for more measures to be taken to reduce the incidence of child labour in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government estimates that 3.3m children between the age of five and 14 are currently being employed in the country.

Non-governmental organisations believe the real figure is far higher and close to 10 million.

Whatever the precise extent of child labour in Pakistan, no-one disputes the fact that too many youngsters are forced to work.

Progress in football industry

In the past, most attention has been paid to high-profile export industries such as the stitching of footballs and the production of carpets.

A sustained campaign co-ordinated by the International Labour Organisation has reduced the number of child labourers in the football industry by about 95%.

The Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, said that the task now is to replicate that success in other sectors.

He said more funds should be allocated to the problem and better monitoring systems established so that existing laws protecting children are better enforced.

The Foreign Minister was speaking at a conference in Islamabad held to discuss the issue.

Both he and a senior official from the Labour Ministry took the chance to criticise some of the Western attitudes to child labour.

Western 'double standards'

They said that some Western initiatives appeared to be protectionist and motivated by a desire to keep Pakistani goods out of their markets.

And they argued that the West applied double standards, condoning children working in the West - for example when delivering newspapers - whilst condemning similar practices in developing countries.

But even if the conference exposed some differences of approach, all the speakers agreed that it does remain a problem which needs to be tackled.

Anti-child labour campaigners argued that employers hire children because they are both cheaper than adults and less able to organise themselves in trade unions and they said that child labour will have to be eliminated if Pakistan, and other South Asian countries, are to have healthy and educated workforces in the future.

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