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A partnership to raise prosperity and protect children in rural Pakistan

By A. Sami Malik

UNICEF and the IKEA Foundation teamed up to raise awareness on child rights, health services and hygiene practices in Pakistan’s agricultural districts, and also to empower families and communities through vocational and business training.

BELA, Pakistan, 28 October 2015 ¬– “Working together, we not only share each other’s burden, but are also ensuring a brighter future for our children,” Jan Bibi says proudly as she looks at her husband, Muhammad Sharif. “Our children go to a private school and are doing well. We will not allow them to give up their studies and start working in the cotton fields. We make enough money to give them a comfortable life so they stay focused on their education.”

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Malik
Jan Bibi, a mother of four in Bela, Pakistan, makes chapatti (bread) in her kitchen as she manages all her household chores, in addition to running the home-based business she shares with her husband.

Only three years ago, Jan Bibi, 38, and Sharif were struggling to make ends meet. Four young children – two boys and two girls – were a handful to manage while Sharif worked at a local tailor shop and Jan Bibi managed the household chores. As the sole breadwinner, Sharif barely earned enough to feed them all.

The couple live in a village on the outskirts of Bela, a city in the Lasbela District of Balochistan Province. It is predominantly a cotton-growing area, and most people work as labourers in the fields. Marred by poverty, many communities are deprived of essential basic services. Like many women of her village, Jan Bibi has also worked in the cotton fields to make extra money for her family.

“This is a poor community,” Jan Bibi says. “Most men from our village go to the city to work as labourers on daily wages. Women do household chores. The only opportunity to make some extra money is by working in the cotton fields at harvest time. Men, women and children, all pick cotton. I used to do that too, but I never allowed my children to work in the fields.”

A protective environment for children

In 2012, the IKEA Foundation partnered with UNICEF to initiate the project Child Rights in Cotton Farming Areas (CRCFA), with the objective to strengthen a protective environment for children in Pakistan, particularly in rural communities where agriculture, especially cotton farming, is the main economic activity. It covers six cotton-producing districts in three provinces – Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Malik
Mohammad Sharif at work in his embroidery shop, established with funds received through the CRCFA project from a social protection programme of the provincial government of Balochistan.

The multi-sector project focuses on health; education; social and child protection; and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), as well as access to economic and business opportunities.

In addition to various government and civil society partners, the CRCFA engaged the NGO National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) as an implementing partner to support interventions on social protection and poverty alleviation in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least developed province.

NRSP supported project activities in 50 villages of Lasbela District, in the south of the province, near the coast of the Arabian Sea. Later, an additional 200 villages were included. 

Communication campaigns were carried out to raise awareness among target communities on child rights and to promote improved health and hygiene practices. Further, multi-functional community centres were established to help raise knowledge on child rights, to increase women’s participation in the public sphere and to provide literacy classes and non-formal education for women and children.

The project also supports vocational training to increase access to income-earning opportunities. For women, embroidery, sewing and beautician courses are offered. After completing the training, participants are provided business management training to develop income-generation and entrepreneurial skills.

A profitable business

When Jan Bibi heard about the training opportunities, she immediately registered to learn embroidery. Upon completing the course, she received the three-day business management training. Feeling empowered by the experience, she was keen to make use of the skills she had acquired.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Malik
Sharif watches carefully as Jan Bibi does embroidery work on a dress.

Sharif, having received a grant from a government social protection programme, set up an embroidery business. The couple agreed on a business plan and started to work together. Sharif already had the necessary tailoring skills and owned mechanical embroidery equipment, while Jan Bibi was trained in peko, decorative hand embroidery to ornament dresses worn on formal occasions. Applying her business management skills, Jan Bibi approached women in her own and neighbouring villages to generate orders.

In a little under three years, Jan Bibi and Sharif have established a modest but profitable business.

Explaining the approach of their joint venture, Sharif says, “These are conservative communities. Women are hesitant to travel to the main commercial area where my shop is located. When they want to place an order for embroidery, they come to our house, where Jan Bibi shares samples of various embroidery patterns. They are at ease and take their time in placing their orders. On occasion, Jan Bibi herself visits nearby villages to collect orders. She generates business on my behalf, and I pay her a commission on each order. With regard to the peko work, I pay her a certain amount for each suit or dupatta [shawl] completed. She has shared my burden, and together we are making enough to give our children a decent living and hope for a brighter future.”

Empowered families and communities

Jan Bibi and Sharif are among many families and individuals who have benefitted from the CRCFA project.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Malik
Jan Bibi and Sharif in their courtyard with three of their four children. They are a happy family, with both parents earning and all the children going to school.

“The CRCFA project is unique in many ways, especially by introducing an integrated package of services to the project communities,” says Sohail Abbasi, UNICEF Pakistan Child Protection Specialist. “The interventions are designed so that each service sector supplements the investment in another. Economic opportunities, facilitated through vocational training, small loans and business development openings, especially for women, are geared towards strengthening the economic resilience of cotton-picking families that, in turn, reduces the number of children in labour as well as cases of exploitation, violence and neglect and improve the overall health and education outcomes for children. More than empowered individuals, CRCFA produced empowered families and communities.” 

In 2014 alone, 699,317 children benefited directly and 70,551 children indirectly through project activities in the three provinces of Pakistan where it was carried out.



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