Child labor and the associated mental health problems are among our most pressing challenges. The psychological effects of child labor can be more severe than the physical effects. Although the government recognizes this as a social danger, little effort has been made to investigate the effects of child labor on the social and behavioral development of young workers. They are deprived of psychosocial support and counseling when they suffer abuse, exploitation, or long-term isolation from family and peers.
According to the ILO report (2021), 69.4% of children work in agriculture, followed by 19.7% in the service sector and 10.9% in industry. Children engaged in these sectors from an early age spend long hours at work, deprived of the right to spend quality time with family and peers. These long working hours interfere with healthy relationships with friends and family, and turn them into insecure adults who are at risk of developing serious emotional problems.
Many child domestic workers and brick kiln workers, away from their homes and communities, suffer sexual exploitation and emotional abuse, and experience feelings of depression, shame, hopelessness, abandonment, and low self-esteem. I’m on fire. These children are more susceptible to mental illness. It is up to governments to devise and implement strong measures to address the mental health problems seen among working children.
Pakistan’s child labor laws and policy discourse overlook the substantial psychological risks compared to the physical dangers facing working children. Child labor laws such as the Child Employment Act 1991 and the Punjab Employment Restriction Act 2016 refer to “dangerous work” involving exposure to toxins with psychosocial consequences. Some may wonder why psychosocial factors are not taken for granted when formulating laws and policies related to child labor. Existing child labor laws and policy frameworks do not address the unreasonable expectations of job productivity and the emotional consequences of lack of encouragement and support for children in labor. Nor does it mention reprimands or punishments for failing to perform tasks in a timely and efficient manner.
The psychological trauma experienced by young workers is often ignored.
Search for Justice, an NGO working to reform Pakistan’s child rights law and policy landscape, is one of the few organizations working to provide psychosocial support to victims of child abuse. . Recruited child psychologists and clinical experts to provide counseling and psychological support to abused children. However, government support is needed to ensure that the psychological and behavioral counseling needs of working children are fully met.
To assess the extent of psychological damage wrought by strenuous child labor, governments must work with labor departments to develop tools to examine key aspects of child labor well-being. . In addition to holding focus group discussions and using child behavior checklists, the Department of Labor, the Department of Child Protection and Welfare, and civil society organizations such as Search for Justice and Sparc have conducted research, observations, A structured interview with parents should be conducted. About the work situation for children and its impact on their mental health.
The psychological well-being of child laborers can also be ensured by providing free legal assistance to victims of harassment and trauma while working in factories, brick kilns or as domestic workers. Her working children, ages 10 to 14, face physical and psychological violence in factories, brick kilns, restaurants and homes. The law cannot take care of such children.
When children come into contact with applicable laws, the processes and procedures are difficult and painful. They find it difficult to talk or share their feelings with adults, mistrust police and judges, and have a poor or no understanding of legal processes and their implications. social factor.
Governments should set up appropriate psychosocial support within child protection agencies in all states. Child welfare organizations should ensure specific legal assistance for children by hiring an attorney or hiring a pro bono attorney. In this way, relevant stakeholders, including government departments and civil society organizations, can provide legal assistance to exploited young workers and help them emotionally heal from the trauma that child labor inevitably brings. play a role.
The author is a development consultant based in Lahore.
Published at dawn on December 31, 2022