Gaps and Challenges to address Child Labour

Child labour remains a pervasive issue globally, with Pakistan being no exception. Despite concerted efforts by various stakeholders, including governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international agencies, significant gaps persist in addressing child labour effectively. This analysis aims to delve into the key gaps in addressing child labour in Pakistan, drawing insights primarily from the Child Labour Surveys (GB Child Labour Survey 2018-19, Punjab Child Labour Survey 2019-20 and KP Child Labour Survey 2022) and relevant literature.


Education plays a pivotal role in combating child labour by providing children with viable alternatives to entering the workforce prematurely. However, the child labour survey findings reveal several challenges and disparities in accessing education, particularly for vulnerable groups such as girls and children from impoverished households.

Access to Schooling: While the majority of children aged 5–17 attend school, a significant proportion remains idle, especially girls and those from ever-married backgrounds. Financial constraints, lack of school facilities, and parental attitudes contribute to absenteeism, with costs of uniforms, meals, and transportation posing significant barriers.

Early Childhood Education: Access to pre-school education remains limited, despite its proven benefits in enhancing school readiness and reducing dropout rates. Expanding access to quality pre-school education could mitigate disparities in school preparedness.

School Enrollment and Grade-Level Attainment: Despite compulsory schooling from age 5, a considerable percentage of children are not enrolled at the expected grade level for their age, indicating gaps in early childhood education and grade progression. Accelerated learning programs could facilitate the reintegration of out-of-school children.

Geographical Disparities: Regional disparities in school attendance are evident. Targeted interventions and resource allocation are imperative to address regional inequities.


Understanding the dynamics of children’s work is essential for formulating effective interventions to prevent child labour and ensure decent work conditions for adolescents.

Work Participation: A notable percentage of children engage in work, with gender disparities observed, especially in household chores. Societal norms, gender pay gaps, and safety concerns contribute to variations in work participation.

Impact of Cash Transfer Programs: While poverty-targeted cash transfer programs like BISP aim to alleviate financial burdens, their effectiveness in reducing child labour remains inconclusive. Complementary policies addressing poverty dynamics and household investments are warranted.

Nature of Work: Children predominantly work as unpaid family workers, primarily in agriculture, indicating familial reliance on child labor for economic sustenance. Addressing the root causes of household poverty and promoting alternative livelihoods are critical.

Child Labour

The prevalence of child labour underscores the persistence of systemic challenges and vulnerabilities faced by children in Pakistan.

Poverty and Education: Children from impoverished households with low parental education levels are disproportionately affected by child labour, highlighting the interconnectedness of poverty, education, and labour exploitation.

Impact of Shocks: Natural and economic shocks exacerbate child labour prevalence, particularly in rural areas. Social safety nets and resilience-building measures are essential to mitigate the adverse effects of shocks on vulnerable households.

Birth Registration: Limited birth registration rates hinder age verification and enforcement of child labour laws. Strengthening birth registration systems and leveraging linkages with social services can enhance child protection mechanisms.

Occupational Safety and Health

Ensuring safe working conditions is imperative for safeguarding children’s physical and mental well-being.

Hazardous Work Conditions: A significant proportion of children in child labour are exposed to hazardous conditions, posing risks to their health and safety. Targeted interventions, including labor inspections and awareness campaigns, are vital for mitigating workplace hazards.

Psychological Impact: Children engaged in child labor exhibit higher rates of depression, exacerbated by experiences of abuse and exploitation. Access to mental health services and stigma reduction initiatives are crucial for addressing children’s psychological well-being.


Poverty serves as both a cause and consequence of child labour, perpetuating a vicious cycle of exploitation and deprivation.

Income Generation: Impoverished families often rely on the labor of their children to supplement household income, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability to child labour. The economic necessity compels children to forego their education and engage in hazardous or exploitative work conditions.

Access to Basic Needs: Poverty limits access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and nutrition, exacerbating the conditions that drive children into the labour force. Inadequate resources compel families to prioritise immediate survival needs over long-term investments in their children’s well-being, perpetuating intergenerational poverty.

Coping Mechanism: Poor families may view child labour as a coping mechanism to mitigate the impacts of economic shocks or unforeseen emergencies. Children become integral contributors to household survival strategies, further entrenching the cycle of poverty and exploitation.

Social Norms

Social norms play a pivotal role in shaping attitudes and behaviours towards child labour, influencing its acceptance and prevalence within communities.

Cultural Perceptions: Certain cultural norms and traditions normalise child labour as a rite of passage or familial duty, perpetuating intergenerational cycles of exploitation especially when there are no alternatives available. In some contexts, child labour is viewed as an essential component of skill acquisition and vocational training, reinforcing its societal acceptance.

Gender Discrimination: Social norms often perpetuate gender disparities in child labour, with girls being disproportionately affected due to discriminatory practices and expectations. Prevailing gender norms in many families prioritise boys’ education and employment opportunities over girls’, relegating girls to domestic chores or informal labour sectors.

Community Pressures: Social pressures and community expectations can influence families’ decisions regarding child labour. Peer pressure, community solidarity, and perceived social status may compel families to engage their children in labour activities to conform to societal expectations and norms.

Lack of Enforcement

Inadequate enforcement mechanisms undermine efforts to combat child labour, allowing exploitative practices to persist with impunity.

Legal Frameworks: One of the major challenges is that child labour is mostly prevalent in informal sector, and the existing laws are not applicable, therefore the scope of laws restricting and regulating is limited. Additionally, where in establishments laws are applicable to prohibit and penalise child labour, enforcement mechanisms often fall short due to systemic challenges.

Resource Constraints: Limited resources, both financial and human, hinder the capacity of enforcement agencies to effectively monitor and address child labour violations. Insufficient funding, staffing shortages, and logistical constraints impede the implementation of enforcement measures at the grassroots level. Majority of labour inspection is around industries, and there are no exclusive labour inspectors to monitor child labour violations.

Corruption and Collusion: Corruption and collusion between enforcement officials and unscrupulous employers undermine efforts to combat child labour. Bribery  and regulatory capture create loopholes that perpetuate exploitative labour practices and hinder accountability. It is indicative from the very low conviction rates.

Lack of Awareness: Limited awareness about child labour laws and regulations among stakeholders, including government officials, employers, and communities, undermines compliance and enforcement efforts.

Coordination Challenges: Fragmented coordination and collaboration among relevant stakeholders impede effective enforcement of child labour laws. Weak inter-agency coordination, jurisdictional disputes, and bureaucratic inefficiencies hamper the synergistic efforts needed to combat child labour comprehensively.

Addressing these gaps requires a multi-pronged approach that combines legal reforms, targeted interventions, capacity-building initiatives, and community mobilization efforts. Strengthening enforcement mechanisms, raising awareness about child labor rights, promoting social dialogue, and addressing underlying socio-economic inequalities are critical steps towards eradicating child labor and safeguarding the rights and dignity of children.


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