International Partnerships

Protecting children from harm in Pakistan

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The CLEAR Cotton project is helping to protect children from harm and reduce cases of the worst forms of child labour in Pakistan.

The project is working with cotton growing communities to build awareness around Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) with the objective of protecting children and adult workers from harmful pesticides in the Southern Punjab region.

In Pakistan, the majority of the population depends on agriculture to make a living. Women and children involved in crop production and harvesting activities are often exposed to  hazardous pesticides used commonly in crops like cotton, vegetables, maize and rice.

Shagufta Yasmeen, a female farmer from Southern Punjab taking part in the CLEAR Cotton project and driving change.
Shagufta Yasmeen, a female farmer from Southern Punjab taking part in the CLEAR Cotton project and driving change.

Pakistan is the fourth leading cotton producer in the world. The textile industry contributes nearly one-fourth of industrial value-added and provides employment for about 40% of the industrial labour force.

In most provinces of Pakistan it is legal to work from the age of 14, however according to ILO Conventions, if working conditions are not safe for the children’s age, it is hazardous and is then considered as child labour. According to the latest ILO-UNICEF Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, more than 160 million children are in child labour worldwide. Despite encouraging progress in Asia over the last two decades, the issue is persistent and in Central and Southern Asia, 26.3 million children aged 5 to 17 years old, representing 5.5% of children in the region, are found in child labour situations.

One day we were applying pesticide in the field along with children and one of them picked it up and he touched his face, his skin became red and he developed rashes on his face.
- Shagufta Yasmeen

With the EU funded CLEAR Cotton project in Pakistan, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) are working with cotton growing communities to build awareness around Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) to protect children from harmful pesticides in the Southern Punjab region. Cotton producers receive information about alternative solutions to replace chemical use.

Shagufta Yasmeen, a female farmer, explains the dangers: “when children come with us to work in the field, they sometimes help with wheat harvesting and bundling of wheat crop. One day we were applying pesticide in the field along with children and one of them picked it up and he touched his face, his skin became red and he developed rashes on his face”.

 

The CLEAR Cotton project aims to eliminate child labour in cotton production and to limit the exposure of children to harmful pesticides used in cotton fields. The project has developed training tools to raise awareness about harmful pesticides used in the growing of cotton.

To raise awareness and change dangerous practices, a useful and handy booklet and visual guide called “Protect Children from Pesticides!” was produced for the Pakistani context and translated into Urdu. The guide shows how children are exposed to pesticides, what the health risks are, why children are particularly vulnerable, and what can be done to reduce those risks. Importantly, the visual guide can be understood by anyone, no matter what their literacy levels are.

CLEAR Cotton awareness raising on occupational safety and health (OSH) amongst cotton growing communities in Punjab.
CLEAR Cotton awareness raising on occupational safety and health (OSH) amongst cotton growing communities in Punjab.

Pesticides are usually hazardous materials with the potential to harm people, unless well protected. Therefore children and adolescents should not handle pesticides at all. This includes manufacturing, mixing, spraying, cleaning of equipment, or disposing of unused stuff. Farmers associations, trade unions, and other community based organisations, can share these messages to protect the children and the guide will help disseminate these important messages and guidance on how to protect children.

Shagufta Yasmeen further explains the danger, “the packaging of these pesticides and the containers in which they come are very attractive. Before we used to wash the containers with soap and keep them for reuse. But the guide shows that no matter how much we clean, the poisonous residue of pesticides remains in the containers and it is harmful for us to reuse”.

The guide is changing harmful practices. Waheed Ashraf, a 15 year old boy from Vehari, Pakistan, who works in the fields said, “since reading this visual guide I stay away from pesticides. My father also advised me to stay away, especially when pesticides are being sprayed on crops”.

“(The guide) is very important for dissemination and generation of knowledge and to show how we can protect children and women from the negative impact of pesticides. We should also understand that hazardous work, which is the exposure of women and children to pesticides, especially in the case of children is child labour. We are making efforts to reduce hazardous work in Pakistan”, said Shakeel Khan, Coordinator, Flexible Multi-Partner Project, FAO Pakistan

By removing the danger related to pesticide exposure and other hazardous tasks, the CLEAR Cotton project is helping to protect children from harm and reduce cases of the worst forms of child labour.

Image from CLEAR Cotton Pesticides Guide Pakistan
Image from CLEAR Cotton Pesticides Guide Pakistan

The CLEAR Cotton project supports the elimination of child labour and forced labour in the cotton, textile and garment value chains in target producing countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Pakistan, and Peru). It is co-funded by the EU and the ILO, and it is implemented by the ILO in collaboration with the FAO. It began in 2018 and is running until 2022. The project’s total budget is €9 million with the EU contributing €7.5 million.

In Pakistan, project activities include:

  • Improving access to education for children in or at risk of child labour in cotton production areas through accelerated schooling programmes to reintegrate into mainstream schools.
  • Providing vocational and OSH trainings for youth and women to access decent work opportunities in the cotton, textile and garment value chains and adopt safe work practices.
  • Strengthening livelihoods of vulnerable families through training on new income generating activities.
  • Raising awareness of key stakeholders, target communities and the general public on child and forced labour.
  • Developing gender-responsive community-based multi-stakeholder monitoring and remedial mechanisms to combat child labour and forced labour.
  • Providing capacity building of local governments, labour inspectors, employers’ and workers’ organisations.
  • Supporting the revision and implementation of policy, legal and regulatory frameworks at federal and provincial levels in line with the International Labour Standards.
  • Conducting quantitative and qualitative research on child labour, forced labour and other fundamental principles and rights at work in the national cotton, textile and garment value chains.
Image from CLEAR Cotton Pesticides Guide Pakistan
Image from CLEAR Cotton Pesticides Guide Pakistan