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Gabir's story: Child labour robs millions of Pakistani children of their dreams

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Francia
A child works making bricks in the hot sun in Pakistan's Sindh Province. He would prefer to go to school but has to help earn money for his family.

This year’s World Day Against Child Labour, which was marked on 12 June, focused on hazardous working conditions faced by some 115 million children worldwide, and called for urgent action to halt the practice. This is one story of the impact child labour has on young lives.

SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan, 13 June 2011 – As the sun burns down on a dusty, open-air brick-making factory on the outskirts of Shahdadkot city, Gabir (not his real name), 12, squats on the ground, picking up a lump of mud with his bare hands. Gabir’s hands, feet and clothing are covered with the evidence of his work.

The lump is about the size of a large loaf of bread, and it’s heavy for a child. He carries it over to his father, who uses a mould to make brick shapes that lay in long slithering lines on the ground to dry. Later, donkeys carry the dried bricks to the kiln for firing. Mud bricks like these are a ubiquitous sight in buildings around Sindh Province.

“I don’t like working in the hot sun,” says Gabir. “I get very tired.” 

‘My job is difficult’

Gabir works at one of the more than 100 brick kilns in and around Shahdadkot, a city of around 400,000 people in western Sindh. Pakistan is host to thousands of such factories, most with their complement of child workers. Millions of children in the country are involved in some kind of exploitive labour.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Francia
An outreach worker from the UNICEF-supported Indus Resource Centre in Pakistan's Sindh Province talks to a young brick-maker about his future.

For eight and half hours of work each day, Gabir earns 50 Rupees, or about 60 cents. Working six days a week, he uses his small hands to prepare and carry enough mud for 600 to 700 bricks daily. There is no shade from the unrelenting sun.

In the evenings, Gabir comes back to work for an hour to prepare mud for the next day’s brick-making. He has to make up to 40 trips to fetch water from a nearby lake and carry it back to his station in a metal bucket.

“My job is difficult and hard to do, and I don’t like it,” says Gabir, who has been working at the factory for the past year alongside his father. “Sometimes I stay away for a week, but my dad asks me to come back,” he adds. “I’ve run away from the brick kiln to home many times.”

Family survival

Gabir has to work to help his parents and two siblings survive. Says his father, who was introduced to the brick factory by his own father 20 years ago: “I earn very little. That’s why I thought if my son worked, too, then I would get enough money to support my family. We are just getting by.”

Having never been to school, Gabir and can neither read nor write. “I’d like to go to school,” he says. “If I went to school, my life would be better.”

UNICEF supports education programmes as a life-changing opportunity for girls and boys like Gabir – in Pakistan and around the globe – who are caught in the cycle of intergenerational poverty, child labour and illiteracy. As Gabir himself puts it: “I don’t want my brother or sister to have to work at the brick kiln, because it’s a very tough job.”



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