Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan: Right to education—The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.
Unfortunately, the government of Pakistan has not been able to keep its promise of providing free education to all school-age children. The total number of out-of-school children in Pakistan has increased to more than 22 million and approximately 19 million of them are involved in child labor.
On this Day against Child Labour, let’s take a look at the relationship between vocational training and child labor, to understand how the two are linked.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that is detrimental to children, by depriving them of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity.
Child labor robs children of their right to education, either by forcing them to drop out prematurely or requiring them to draw a balance between schooling and work. Worst of all, children who are forced into child labor by the system most often end up in occupations that limit their chances of breaking out of poverty. Moreover, children in schools are not learning enough either. The current education system is not benefitting them because it is unable to develop their skills, even the basic literacy skills that children acquire in school tend to erode very quickly. Due to the poor quality of education, parents prefer pushing their children into labor over sending them to school, making it even more difficult to come out of the poverty trap and change their socioeconomic standing.
According to the UNDP National Development Report, almost 64% of Pakistan’s population is below the age of 30 and Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had. With an outdated curriculum and a high dropout rate, Pakistan’s technical and vocational training institutions have been unable to harness its young potential. Almost 4 million youth enter the working-age population every year, which means that around one million jobs will be needed each year for the next five years to sustain the labor force participation rate. This is a very big challenge for the government because unfortunately, a large number of the young Pakistani labor force is unskilled and uncertified. With limited job opportunities and no formal education, laborers are left earning nominal wages.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that low learning achievements and poor-quality education are key contributory factors to high drop-out rates and child labour. These factors also have adverse effects on employment outcomes in the form of skill discrepancy and higher vulnerability to exploitative and hazardous work. Due to this, parents believe that education will not lead to better jobs for their children and will not help them escape poverty. In order to convince families to invest in their children’s education, the education system needs to improve its quality and relevance.
While the poor quality of education may not be the only reason that children drop out of school and become victims of child labor, it does worsen this tendency in situations where other socio-economic and cultural factors exist.
Therefore, Pakistan needs to introduce more initiatives to rehabilitate child laborers by providing formal and non-formal education. Vocational training needs to be used as a tool to bring children out of child labour and prepare them for adult employment. The government must also take action to improve the poor quality of education that forces children to drop out of school and work. Furthermore, new initiatives around apprenticeship are needed for children who combine work and school, so that they can learn relevant skills for the local labour market. The ‘earn-and-learn’ schools in Zimbabwe are an appropriate example of an environment where children work on a tea plantation in return for receiving an education. Also, another great example is the ‘education with production’ initiative in South Africa where adults and young people can learn academic, vocational, and practical subjects. Hence, making education accessible for those who might have otherwise been excluded. Similar practices could be adapted across poverty-stricken rural communities in Pakistan. To develop an institutional framework, such initiatives might require a partnership between the employers and the government. The participation of employers in devising training schemes based on the current labour market demand will be highly beneficial.
Vocational and technical training will help increase the earning capacity of Pakistan’s youth and aid in decreasing unemployment, increasing income levels, and reducing poverty. Also, if the curriculum is designed as per different industries’ requirements of the workforce, it will be easier for graduates to integrate into the labor market and skilled labor will also aid in speeding up the economic growth of the country.
Lastly, Pakistan’s vocational education system cannot overcome challenges like lack of enrollment, high drop-out rates, and irrelevance to industry without an effective development and implementation strategy. Therefore, strategic investments in effective education policies and vocational training programs are required to prevent children from dropping out and falling prey to child labour.
For more information on Out of School Children, check out PCE’s Data Portal https://dataportal.pcepak.org/