Concerns of human rights violations and exploitation of child labour in Pakistan have again been raised by Members in the European Parliament (MEPs)
The story of Zohra Shah, an 8-year-old Pakistani girl sold as a maid by her parents from a small village in Pakistan to a well-to-do couple from Rawalpindi, is harrowing reading. The guardians (read: slave masters) of little Zohra, who was employed as a maid in their residence to take care of the house, became furious with her when one day she allowed the two pet parrots to escape from their cage. They beat and tortured Zohra until she became unconscious. Afraid of the consequences, they ‘dumped’ Zohra at the hospital. The medical staff at the hospital were unable to save the child and registered her death. The autopsy noted signs of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, this is not the only case of violence against children in Pakistan. Millions of children carry out work as maids, as factory and brick-kiln workers and in coal mines under bonded labour conditions. Many children are sexually abused and also forced into prostitution. Child labour in Pakistan remains unaddressed and an international human rights concern.
The European Union is Pakistan’s main trading partner and is the main beneficiary of European aid in Asia.
On 18 June 2020, Members of the European Parliament Alessandro Panza, Marco Zanni, Marco Campomenosi, Simona Baldassarre, Susanna Ceccardi, Antonio Maria Rinaldi, Luisa Regimenti and Mara Bizzotto of the Identity and Democracy Group (ID) filed a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. The question was also supported by MEP Marco Dreosto. The MEPs called on Vice President Borrell to “urge Pakistan to take more stringent measures against child labour” and to “consider, in agreement with the Commission, severe economic sanctions”.
On 26 August 2020, High Representative/Vice-President Borrell responded to the MEPs question on behalf of the European Commission stating that “the EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore raised the tragic case of Zohra Shah, and the matter of child labour more broadly, with Federal Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari on 27 June 2020, highlighting the EU’s serious concerns” and added that “Minister Mazari informed of legislative efforts to ensure that domestic child labour below 14 years of age would stop”.
High Representative Borrell asserted that “the topic of child labour features prominently on the agenda of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission’s Sub-Group on Human Rights and is also addressed in the context of the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (GSP+), the 2018-2019 Report on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), and its assessment on the implementation by Pakistan of the conventions on labour and human rights covered by GSP+”.
High Representative Borrell also reported that “in June 2020, the European Commission sent the government a list of the most salient issues in effectively implementing the 27 international conventions relevant to the GSP+”. He continued his response that “this list includes, among others, work towards the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive child labour law, the finalisation of the ongoing child labour surveys and strengthening the labour inspection system” and that “besides fundamental labour conventions, the issue is also considered under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)”.
The Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative informed the MEPs that a “response from the Pakistani government is expected by September 2020” and that “these issues will also be followed upon by the next joint Commission/European External Action Service monitoring mission to Pakistan’.
In closing, Mr Borrell declared that “a temporary withdrawal of GSP preferences under Article 19 of the GSP Regulation is considered in exceptional cases when all other actions fail”.
European Union values and international conventions, such as International Labour Organisation (ILO), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are all being violated by Pakistan. Whilst the Pakistani government and the European Commission may offer reassuring words to concerned Members of the European Parliament, the horrors continue for the millions of children of Pakistan who face abuse, slavery and even death on a daily basis.
Photo Credit : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Pakistan