All the world, including Pakistan, is shut on May 01 every year, lip-servicing workers or laborers by speeches, functions, seminars, parties and fanfare. However, child labor continues to haunt on May Day and laboring kids continue to abound in the streets and slums of our country.
May Day is the International Workers’ Day, day commemorating the historic and painful struggles made by workers and the labour movement, observed in many countries of the world, including Pakistan on May 1.
Unfortunately, the agonizing aspect of child labor is when helpless kids are enslaved and forced to become beggars on the road for their cruel and heartless masters. Worst is when kids are crippled or pretend to be crippled crying their hearts out for alms or charity to fill the coffers of their greedy masters. Also how nerve-tingling and heart-soaring it is to see kids train and perform hazardly with animals, fire, knives, daggers and tightrope walking. All this they do for tiny or no pay whatsoever.
Look how hungry kids drag and sweat for peanuts of pay in slums in or around Hyderabad’s Gari Khata, Qasimabad, Char Minar, Saddar markets, Resham gali and “katchi abadis” along Indus river etc.
See how agonizing it is for adolescents laboring from dawn to dusk for little livelihood downtown Karachi’s Kharadar, Lee Market, Ranchore Lines, Jacob Lines, Benaras Colony, Gujar Nallah, Orangi, Landhi, Korangi and alike.
Peshawar presents a picture of plight on head-to-toe labored kids from Cant’s Nothia, kalabari and Chowk Fuwara to City’s Mochi Lara, Qissa Khawani and Chowkyadgar etc.
Kids labor for “roti” be it blazing sun or biting cold whether Multan’s traditional gates or Agahi bazar, or Rawalpindi’s Lalkurti and Raja bazar or Islamabad’s Peshawar more or Abpara or back lanes and bilanes of Jinnah Road in Quetta city.
Among the laboring kids are customary cart pushers, heavy duty porters, car washers, head massagers, tea sellers, news hawkers, monkey charmers, snake charmers, street entertainers, manual loaders, ordinary laborers, road sweepers, street vendors, cafe waiters, dish cleaners, wood workers, plumbing helpers, tailor helpers, sanitary workers and so on.
Little girls turned masis of the nation, labor from dawn to dusk, walking to work and back home in torn slippers if not bare foot, either intimidated or with fear of the unforeseen, but with excellent skills in cooking, dish and clothes washing, floor and sanitary cleaning and some in stitching, sewing, nursing and baby-sitting etc.
Note-worthy and worth-sharing is an amazing story of a Karachi kid monkey charmer. In early teens and with unbelievable skills he astonishingly trains his monkey in acrobatics and loyalty. They sweat the whole hot day for peanuts as even rich kids don’t pay for fun they provide. Look at the loyal monkey waiting for his little master to eat before taking the left over. And the little master vows never to beg but to labor for living. Lesson for all home and abroad.
One concealed still revealing aspect of our cute little child laborers is that many of them have Allah-gifted talents. Amazing and unbelievable are many with arts and skills that bewitch and baffle clients and customers home as well as abroad.
However, the truly hidden promise and potential of our laboring kids stay dormant due to reasons best known to men who matter. Masters of these laboring kids need their own big good along with little caring for toiling and sweating tiny ones.
It will do more good to the big masters to consider tiny and trivial training and stipend for the laboring kids. Here they will be pioneering the cause of dignity of labor for laboring kids of the nation whose magnanimous talents and skills can enrich their huge coffers and bank balances enormously. Let this be a deal of sanity and ingenuity when owners of our cottage industry have nothing to lose and all to gain by giving dignity of child labor on May Day.
What a moral booster to dignity of child labor can be proprietors of our Sialkot sports industry to whiz kids whose magical fingers churn out footballs preferred at World Cup Soccer, Olympics and world football tournaments. What a fillip can manufacturers of of world class cricket kit provide to our little masters with the midas touch of producing top class bats, balls, wickets, gloves, guards, pads and helmets. Rackets crafted by our little artisans, whether of squash badminton or table tennis, are in great demand internationally.
Our cottage industry, be it cutlery and crockery, carpets and rugs, caps and turbans, coats and jackets, musical and surgical instruments, pottery and paintings, furniture and so on, flourish mainly due to spell-binding craftsmanship of our adolescent work force as a big foreign exchange earner. So how about rising over self and owning these cute little ones in the larger interest of Pakistan.
Political leadership: government and opposition, believe in alms and charity, alright. But these child laborers need something different. Our leaders need to be trend-setters in ensuring dignity of labor for them and they can best do it by owning our little laborers as their very own in letter and spirit.
Our enlightened and illustrious electronic and print media may kindly consider interviewing for a change these innocent little laborers and our concerned and committed torch-bearers of child labor need to invite them as guests of honor to their May Day celebrations, functions and parties. Is it not a question of owning as our very own tiny national assets of immense promise and potential?
The writer, a senior faculty in media management and corporate communication, contributes to media on national and international affairs.