Pakistan - Working conditions

The workforce comprises of 38.6 million people, growing at an annual average rate of 2.7 percent in 1992-99. There is an extensive export of labor, mostly to the rich Middle Eastern states in the Gulf region, where Pakistanis, alongside Sri Lankis, Indians, and Filipinos find work as cleaners and domestic servants, but also in industry, commerce, and governmental services. The convenience of affordable travel to the oil-rich Arabian Gulf states and the expectation of work opportunities makes those countries attractive destinations for Pakistanis seeking jobs.

Officially, about 7 percent of the workforce is currently unemployed, a crude measure in most countries, but even more so in a country with a massive undocumented labor force. Pakistan's employment statistics are incomplete, omitting a range of wage earners and self-employed persons, male as well as female, in what is termed "the informal sector." According to unofficial estimates, unemployment may reach about 15 percent, and represents a growing problem for the government. With a majority of the population poised to enter a job market with few employment prospects, the provision of jobs, especially in rural areas, is of increasing importance. Due to the low quality or absence of educational services, again particularly in rural areas, there is a lack of skilled labor.

Several attempts have been made to eradicate bonded labor over the past decade in Pakistan, but the system remains partially in place. The bonded labor system is a lending structure in which the debtor/worker is bound to the creditor/employer as long as all or part of the debt remains outstanding. In case of sickness or death, the family of the individual is responsible for the debt, which often passes down from generation to generation. The problem of child bonded labor is especially serious: bonded money is paid to a parent or guardian, who then provides the child to work off the debt. The most severe conditions have been detected among the haris (landless tenant farmers) in the Sindh region, as documented by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Some 1,000 laborers surveyed revealed that three-quarters had been subject to physical restraint, such as private jails, and that some 90 percent of the children had been compelled to work. To alleviate this problem the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has purchased land and set up temporary camps in order for families to take refuge, and the government has allowed haris to settle on government land.

A related but distinct problem is that of child labor. Although most Pakistani children work in the agricultural sector, a large number of children work in urban centers weaving carpets, manufacturing surgical instruments, and producing sporting goods for export. A 1992 UNICEF/Government of Pakistan study reported that 90 percent of the 1 million workers in the carpet industry are children, many of whom began working in the industry before 10 years of age. Just as the data on Pakistan's labor force is unreliable, figures on child labor remain somewhat unclear. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that child labor has assumed massive proportions in Pakistan. The actual total number of working children in Pakistan is probably somewhere between 8 and 10 million.

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