[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Right foot forward for child labourers
By Chiade O'Shea in Sialkot

Adnan Nazir wearing his new trainers
Adnan hand-stitched footballs for four years

Putting on bright white trainers to play football in the park, 12-year-old Adnan Nazir could be almost any child caught up in World Cup fever.

But his faintly calloused hands belie his true role in the world of soccer.

Not yet scuffed, his new shoes are a rare luxury for a Pakistani child whose only experience of the sport until recently was hand-sewing footballs.

For four years, Adnan forced tough thread through the thick laminated panels of footballs. As his dexterity and strength progressed with age, he learnt the skill of adding the final, most difficult piece without the join showing.

"I used to make the whole ball," he says with a young boy's pride.

One of our greatest successes has been raising public consciousness of the child labour situation in places like Europe
Nick Grisewood,
International Labour Organisation

But the work took a toll on his health.

"I used to get pains in my hands and shoulders," Adnan says, rubbing his joints.

The intense repetitive strain on young bodies commonly leads to long-term problems with the skeleton and muscles. The children's eyesight also suffers from staring at the garish leather hexagons for hours in poor lighting.

Shortly before the kick-off of France '98, pictures of children like Adnan stitching footballs carrying the logos of football's governing body, Fifa, and major sport brands sparked an international outcry.

It soon emerged that 7,000 children were working in the industry in Pakistan.

Eight years and two World Cups later, the practice has been all but eradicated.

Monitoring

The government, factories and an embarrassed international industry drafted in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to reform manufacturing in Sialkot, the Punjabi district that provides 75% of the world's footballs.

Women in assembly line cleaning footballs
Balls are now stitched in factories, not in the home

Outsourcing piecework to families used to allow factory heads to turn a blind eye to the age of the workers, but now employees work in stitching centres, monitored by an independent watchdog.

It soon became clear, however, that their efforts would be fruitless if they didn't tackle the underlying motivation for children's work.

"Child labour is a very strong indicator of poverty so you need to remove that root cause," says the ILO's consultant project manager Nick Grisewood.

"Otherwise, you run a very strong risk that they might pop up working in other situation, and quite likely in a worse situation."

The alternatives - tanneries and surgical instrument factories - are at least as dangerous and attract significantly less international scrutiny.

"I don't know what I earn," says 12-year-old Shazad Aamer, on a break from a surgical scissors factory with his friend Shazad Tahra. "The money goes straight to my dad for things like food."

To guard against the loss of income, the ILO set up micro-credit schemes that many families have used to buy livestock or establish small businesses.

Catch-up schools

Poverty played a part in keeping children in work, but was not the whole picture.

Shazad Tahra (left) and Shazad Aamer
Many child labourers end up working for other industries

When Hamad Ahmed, a 13-year-old football stitcher, stopped work, he says his family didn't miss the lost income.

"I used to make only five rupees [eight cents, five pence] a day," he explains.

Why miss out on an education for the cost of a few chapattis?

"We didn't have a school before," Hamad says.

The stitching villages surrounding Sialkot, like many in Pakistan, have a chronic education shortage. So when the ILO established special catch-up schools for the children, the lure of learning drew many away from work

Hamad enthusiastically covered five years of the curriculum in just two years and will go to a mainstream school next term.

Keen to edge away from their image as Dickensian exploiters of children, factory owners are now some of the most wholehearted supporters of the scheme.

Rizwan Dar, an executive director of Saga Sports, the world's largest manufacturer of hand-stitched footballs, says the benefit was not only humanitarian but also made business sense.

As child labour decreased, so did the number of faulty balls they had to discard. "Ultimately it paid us back," Mr Dar explained.

But there's another strong financial motivator. Fifa endorsement - and consequently the exporters' profits - now requires a blemish-free child labour record.

Monitors often go months without finding a child at work.

Making footballers

The final stage of their plan, initiated by Fifa to coincide with the start of the World Cup and World Day Against Child Labour on Monday, is a programme to get ex-stitchers playing football.

Made in Pakistan logo
Endorsement by Fifa is a big incentive for manufacturers

"Now I'm studying, I have time to play," beams Adnan as he ties the laces on his new Fifa-funded trainers.

"It's good to do sport because it helps you grow strong like a man," the delicately-framed Hamad comments earnestly.

The idea of making footballers out of the children who used to make footballs is a neat PR exercise for an embarrassed industry.

It also helps raise awareness of child labour in the industrial West where most consumers would rarely imagine their footballs were hand-made, let alone sewn by children.

As Nick Grisewood notes: "One of our greatest successes has been raising public consciousness of the child labour situation in places like Europe."

With the workers, exporters and importers now on board, the buying power of ethically-aware consumers may indeed be the key to a lasting solution.




SEE ALSO
Pakistan labour effort praised
04 May 06 |  South Asia
Child labourers speak out
08 Sep 03 |  South Asia
Children swap silk work for school
21 Aug 03 |  South Asia
Pakistan signs child labour deal
20 Mar 01 |  South Asia
Pakistan wants action on child labour
08 Sep 99 |  South Asia

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific