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Bringing education to child labourers in rural Pakistan

© UNICEF/Pak/Ramoneda
Children as young as three work in brick kilns in Pakistan

By Antonia Paradela

Chandian Talawan Village 201, Faisalabad, February 2009 - The sun shines brightly on a warm winter morning while Imran digs clay and loads it into a makeshift cart. He strains under the weight as he pushes it towards a row of freshly made bricks. He delivers the clay and goes back to digging. A routine he used to follow for at least seven hours every day.

Imran is a five year old boy. He works in a brick kiln near the city of Faisalabad in Punjab Province, as his father and his grandfather did before him. The entire family is tied to this difficult and dangerous work by debt, poverty and lack of education and of other employment opportunities. In Faisalabad District alone, there are 373 kilns with the majority of workers consisting of families in bonded labour as they work to repay the money they owe their employers. According to baseline study, conducted by UNICEF’s implementing partner Hayat Foundation, there are more than 7,000 children working in 373 brick kilns in Faisalabad district.

Imran’s father, Mukhtar Maseeh, is sixty. He has seven children, five boys and two girls. He inherited his father's debt to a kiln owner and borrowed more to pay for his daughter's marriage. Now he owes about 100,000 Pakistani rupees (nearly US $ 1,330). He does not work any more because his eyesight is poor. His sons and daughters, whether they are young men or children like Imran, all work to feed the family. The salary they receive after a small debt repayment is only enough to buy bread, chillies and, depending on the prices, vegetables. “We don’t go to the doctor or buy medicine,” says Mukhtar. Their employer provides simple lodgings for the family and gas for cooking.

But now things are changing for children like Imran and his four-year- old sister Nisha. They are the first of the family to attend school, thanks to a UNICEF supported project funded by Barclays Bank.  This project provides on-site primary education to 451 children (out of them 208 girls) in five brick kiln clusters in Faisalabad city. It aims to reach 500 children by December 2009. In the school that Imran attends, there are 48 boys and 52 girls.

© UNICEF/Pak/Ramoneda
Twelve-year-old Shamshad, in a white shirt on the first row, dreamt of going to school while he was working full time.

The owner of the kiln financed the construction of the three-room school. “He has been very co-operative. He is aware of the importance of education,” says Nadeem Akhtar from UNICEF’s implementing partner Hayat Foundation. “We have been motivating the families to enrol their children in school. We are expecting more children to join the school soon.” Ninety-seven (50 boys and 47 girls) children in school age working in the kiln still not have attended school.

As the kiln owners pay the parents per 1,000 bricks produced, parents encourage their children to work with them from a very young age to increase their production. Three year olds walk over the freshly made bricks, turning each of them by hand as they dry in the sun. From five years of age, children dig, dampen and carry the clay while adolescents deliver the sun-baked bricks to the furnace in donkey carts. There is no government school nearby.

The owner of the kiln financed the construction of the three-room school. “He has been very co-operative. He is aware of the importance of education,” says Nadeem Akhtar from UNICEF’s implementing partner Hayat Foundation. “We have been motivating the families to enrol their children in school. We are expecting more children to join the school soon.” Ninety-seven (50 boys and 47 girls) children in school age working in the kiln still not have attended school.

As the kiln owners pay the parents per 1,000 bricks produced, parents encourage their children to work with them from a very young age to increase their production. Three year olds walk over the freshly made bricks, turning each of them by hand as they dry in the sun. From five years of age, children dig, dampen and carry the clay while adolescents deliver the sun-baked bricks to the furnace in donkey carts. There is no government school nearby.

 

 

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