Child Labour

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Definitions

What is Child Labour?

Child labour, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), refers to work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.

Difference between Child Labour and Child Work?

Child labour and child work are similar in that they both involve children performing work activities. However, there is a significant difference between the two concepts:

Child labour refers to work that is  detrimental to a child’s physical and mental well-being, education, and development. It is generally considered to be work that deprives them of their basic rights.

On the other hand, child work refers to children’s participation in work activities that are not harmful to their health, education, or development. Child work can include activities such as helping with household chores, assisting family businesses, and performing tasks that contribute to their own personal development, such as attending school or learning a trade. Child work can be beneficial to children if it is performed in a safe and age-appropriate manner and does not interfere with their education, health, or development.

What is Hazardous Child Labour?

Hazardous child labour t is considered one of the worst forms of child labour and can take many forms, including:

  1. Work that exposes children to dangerous chemicals or substances, such as pesticides, lead, or asbestos.
  2. Work that involves heavy machinery, such as mining or construction, and that puts children at risk of injury or death.
  3. Work that involves exposure to extreme temperatures, such as working in hot or cold environments.
  4. Work that involves long hours or requires children to work at night.
  5. Work that involves exposure to violence or abuse, such as working in prostitution, or in armed conflict.

Children who engage in hazardous work are exposed to higher range of risks, including physical harm, mental stress, and emotional trauma.

What is Worst Forms of Child Labour?

The Worst Forms of Child Labour is a term used by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to describe the most extreme and harmful forms of child labour. These are defined as any form of work that is considered to be particularly harmful to a child’s health, safety, or moral development.

According to Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (Convention No. 182) was adopted by the ILO in 1999, the  the worst forms of child labour comprises of:

  1. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  2. the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  3. the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  4. work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Prevalence of Child Labour in Pakistan

Child Labour Survey in Pakistan, 1996

In 1996, Pakistan’s first child labour survey estimated 3.3 million ‘economically active children’ aged 5 to 14 (2.4 million boys and 0.9 million girls). Punjab had the highest number of children involved in child labour, followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The survey determined that agriculture involved the greatest proportion of children engaged in child labour (66 per cent), followed by manufacturing (11 per cent), hotels and restaurants (9 per cent), domestic work, social and personal services (8 per cent), transport (4 per cent) and construction (2 per cent).

Projections in 2016 indicated that there were more than 12 million children engaged in child labour in Pakistan ((ILO, 2022).

Pakistan launched a new Child Labour Survey in 2019 across the country’s four provinces and two administrative areas to provide up-todate estimates of child labour. Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) published its Child Labour Survey report in October 2021, and Punjab’s published and launched survey report in October 2022 (ILO, 2022). 

The Gilgit-Baltistan Child Labour Survey 2018-19 reveals that 13.1 per cent of  children aged 5-17 in Gilgit-Baltistan are in child labour. This amounts to 50,761 children 5-17 years old. The child labour incidence is slightly higher for boys (13.6%) compared to girls (12.5%) and increases with age. The highest child labour prevalence is in the age group 14–17 (23.7 per cent), followed by children aged 10–13 years (16.4 per cent) and children aged 5–9 years (4.2 per cent). The district Diamer has the lowest rate of child labour (5.8 per cent), while Shigar present the highest (27.8 per cent).

The Punjab Child Labour Survey 2019-20 reveals that for children aged 5–14, child labour prevalence is 13.4 per cent. For those aged 5–17 the prevalence of CLAHW(Child Labour and Adolescent Hazardous Work) is 16.9 per cent. Child labour incidence is significantly higher for boys than girls: for 5–14-year-olds the figures are 16.8 per cent and 9.7 per cent respectively, while for 5–17 the incidences are 21.8 per cent for boys and 11.5 per cent for girls. Division-wise, the highest child labour prevalence for children aged 5–14 is in Sahiwal (24.7 per cent) and lowest in Rawalpindi (6.1 per cent). For children and adolescents aged 5–17 the prevalence is 27.9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively in these divisions. Whereas by district, the highest child labour prevalence for children aged 5–14 is in Pakpattan (35.5 per cent) and lowest in Attock (5.1 per cent). For children and adolescents aged 5–17 the prevalence for these districts is 39.2 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively.

How does Child Labour affect children?

Child labour has numerous negative impacts on children, both physical and psychological. Here are some of the impacts of child labour on children:

Exploitation

Children who are forced to work may be subject to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and other forms of exploitation including sexual abuse, which can have long-term impacts on their well-being.

Health problems

Child labour can lead to a range of health problems, such as respiratory illnesses, injuries, and chronic diseases. Children who work in hazardous conditions are particularly at risk of injury and illness.

Stunted growth and development

Children who work instead of going to school miss out on education and other opportunities for growth and development, which can lead to stunted physical and cognitive development.

Mental health problems

Child labour can also have negative impacts on mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Children who work may feel isolated from their peers and experience stress and trauma from working in dangerous or exploitative conditions.

Education deprivation

Child labour often means children have to forego their education, leading to limited opportunities for their future.

Social isolation

Children who work are often unable to participate in social activities, which can lead to feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Reduced opportunities

Child labour can limit the opportunities available to children in the future, leading to a cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

Overall, child labour robs children of their childhood and has a range of negative impacts on their physical and mental well-being, educational opportunities, and future prospects.

International Legal Framework for Child Labour

Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, ratified by Pakistan in 1990,  sets out the rights of children and the obligations of states to protect and promote these rights. Article 32 of the CRC specifically addresses the issue of child labor.

Article 32 of the CRC states that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” Furthermore, Article 32 of the CRC calls on states to take legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures to protect children from economic exploitation and to promote their physical and mental well-being.

Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

Pakistan ratified ILO Convention No. 29 in 1957, which requires ratifying states to suppress all forms of forced or compulsory labour (Article 1(1)). As the first convention on the subject, it contains the definition of ‘forced or compulsory labour’ (Article 2(1)) and lists five possible exceptions. It also requires countries to ensure that the use of forced labour is criminalised and that penalties are “genuinely proportionate and strictly enforced” (Article 25).

 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)

Pakistan ratified ILO Convention No. 105 in 1960, which explicitly prohibits five types of forced labour imposed by state authorities: forced labour as a punishment for the expression of political views, for the purposes of economic development, for participation in strikes, as a means of racial or other discrimination, or as form of labour-related discipline.

ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)

ILO Minimum Age Convention No. 138, adopted in 1973,  sets out the minimum age for employment and work.  The convention requires member states to establish a minimum age for admission to employment or work that is not less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling, and in any case, not less than 15 years. For developing countries, this minimum age can be reduced to 14 years under certain conditions. Pakistan ratified this Convention on 6 July 2006.

ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)

ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, adopted by ILO in 1999, is designed to address the worst forms of child labor, which include all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, forced labor, the use of children in armed conflict, the trafficking of children, and any work that is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. Under the convention, member states are required to take immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including identifying and removing children from such work, and providing them with appropriate rehabilitation and social services. The convention also calls for measures to address the root causes of child labor, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and social exclusion. Pakistan ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention on 11 October 2001.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, a global plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity. It sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), encompassing 169 targets. All countries and stakeholders, including governments, businesses, the media, higher education institutions, and non-governmental organisations, are expected to work together to implement the 2030 Agenda. SDG target 8.7 calls on states to take immediate and effective steps to end forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking, as well as to ensure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labour, as a necessary step towards achieving decent work for all, full and productive employment, and inclusive and sustainable economic growth by 2025.

Pakistan Policy Framework for Child Labour

National Strategy to Eliminate Child and Bonded Labour in Pakistan, 2016

The strategy provides a framework for the coordination of efforts to eliminate child labour and bonded labour. This is to be achieved through capacity development, policy integration, mainstreaming child and bonded labour issues, strengthening law enforcement, and enhancing the system of data collection, analysis and use on child and bonded labour. It involves partnerships, resource mobilization, and information, education and communications. The strategy was developed by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development. 

National Labour Protection Framework, 2018

This time-bound document covers seven thematic areas: child labour, forced labour, labour inspection, freedom of association, non-discrimination, occupational safety and health (OSH), and social dialogue. For each area, it addresses legislative, institutional, coverage and capacity building-related issues. The framework consists of Provincial Implementation Plans (PIPs), which highlight promising legislative and policy initiatives, address specific provincial measures, and provide timelines on child and bonded labour. The framework was developed by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Labour Policy, 2018

The policy commits to the promotion of ‘decent work for all’ by prioritizing improvements in health and safety, ensuring the payment of wages through scheduled banks, addressing discrimination and promoting women’s entry into the labour market. It aims to reinvigorate the labour inspection mechanism, promote social dialogue, extend the coverage of laws to uncovered workers, and integrate efforts for the sustained elimination of child labour and bonded labour. The policy seeks to extend social security to all brick kiln workers in the province within three years.

Sindh Labour Policy, 2018

The policy provides a framework for industrial relations and the promotion of the social and economic well-being of workers. It commits Sindh to simplifying and consolidating labour laws and abolishing child labour and bonded labour. It also aims to extend social protection and workers’ welfare to workers in the informal economy, including domestic and home-based workers. Other priorities include resolving disputes, improving health and safety, protecting workers’ fundamental rights, creating a pro-worker and pro-industry environment, minimum wages for working children and improving access to education and training.

Punjab Labour Policy, 2018

The policy commits Punjab to the effective implementation of labour standards, social dialogue, improved workplace safety, an objective living wage and the elimination of child labour and bonded labour. This includes awareness raising, strengthening of labour inspection, quality technical training, simplification of labour laws, provision of medical facilities for workers registered with the Punjab Social Security Institution – even after retirement – and gradual extension of labour protection to all workers.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Labour Policy, 2018

The policy advocates for the gradual eradication of child labour through a participatory approach. This includes policy integration, availability of reliable statistics, research and development, awareness raising among key stakeholders, improvement of workplaces, immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour, coordinated efforts to increase enrolment in schools, referral mechanisms and effective law enforcement.

Pakistan Legal Framework for Child Labour

Constitution of Pakistan, 1973

The Constitution of Pakistan prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in any factory, mine or other hazardous employment under Article 11(3) of the Constitution. The Constitution also guarantees the right to education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen years under Article 25-A. Article 37(e) provides that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that women and children are not employed in vacations unsuited to their age or sex, and for maternity benefits for women in employment.

Pakistan Penal Code, 1860

The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 1860 is primarily concerned with prescribing criminal offenses and their punishments in Pakistan. It does not specifically address child labour as a criminal offense. In 2016, a new section 328 was added to PPC.  Section 328-A of the PPC, 1860 criminalizes the offense of cruelty to a child. According to this section, whoever causes cruelty to any child either by exposing him to any situation where his life or health is likely to be endangered or by doing any act that is likely to cause him physical or mental suffering shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine, or with both.

Employment of Children Act, 1991

The Employment of Children Act 1991 is a federal law in Pakistan, enforced in Islamabad Capital Territory, that prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in any occupation, including child domestic labour. The law also prohibits the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18 in hazardous occupations. Under the law, any employer found to be employing a child in violation of the Act can be fined and imprisoned. The Act also provides for the establishment of inspection teams to monitor compliance with the law.

Mines Act, 1923

Article 26 of the Mines Act prohibits child labour in mining. It unequivocally states that “No child shall be employed in a mine, or be allowed to be present in any part of a mine which is below ground.”

Factories Act, 1934

The Factories Act, 1934 is a law in Pakistan that regulates working conditions in factories. Section 50 of the Act deals with the employment of children in factories. According to the Act, no child who is under the age of 14 years can be employed in any factory. Moreover, no child between the ages of 14 and 18 years can be employed in any hazardous occupation or process, which is likely to cause injury to his or her health or physical development. The Act also lays down certain conditions for the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18 years in factories. These include restrictions on the number of hours they can work, the types of work they can perform, and the provision of adequate safety measures. In addition, the Act requires every occupier of a factory to maintain a register of all children employed in the factory, which should contain details such as their names, ages, and nature of work.

West Pakistan Shops and Establishment Ordinance, 1969

Shops and Establishments Ordinance, 1969 governs the employment conditions relating to the hours and other conditions of work and employment of persons employed in shops and commercial, industrial and other establishments.  Under this law, no child below the age of 14 years is permitted to work in any establishment, except in certain circumstances where the child is working in a family-owned business or in a technical education institution as part of an approved training program. However, in these cases, the child’s employment is subject to certain conditions and restrictions, including limitations on the number of working hours and provision of adequate safeguards for the child’s health and safety. Additionally, the ordinance provides for penalties and fines for any establishment found to be employing a child in violation of the law.

The provinces and regions of Pakistan have adapted the Ordinance by making the following amendments:

  • The Punjab Shops and Establishments Ordinance, 2014, which adapted the Federal Act and replaced all mentions of ‘West Pakistan’ with ‘Punjab’;
  • The Sindh Shops and Commercial Establishment Act, 2015;
  • The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shops and Establishments Act, 2015; and
  • The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Shops and Establishment (Amendment) Act, 2017
Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018

The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018 is a law to combat human trafficking in the whole country. The provisions of the Act aim to protect survivors of trafficking, ensure that victims are not criminalised, establish severe penalties for offenders – especially for trafficking in women and children – and raise awareness among stakeholders and the public. Anyone who recruits, harbours, transports, provides or obtains another person, or attempts to recruit, harbour, transport, provide or receive another person for the purpose of ‘compelled labour’ or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion commits the offence of trafficking in persons. This is punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years, a fine of up to PKR 1 million, or both. Trafficking a woman or child is punishable by 2-10 years imprisonment and the offence is deemed ‘cognizable’ and non-bailable.

Provincial Laws

Punjab Restriction on Employment Children Act, 2016

Punjab Restriction on Employment Children Act, 2016 prohibits the employment of children and to restrict the employment of adolescents in certain occupations and processes. A child is defined a person who has not attained the age of fifteen years whereas “adolescent” means a person who has attained the age of fifteen years but has not attained the age of eighteen years. The Act specifies that an occupier shall not employ or permit a child to work in the establishment. The Act provides a lit of 38 occupations, and the occupier shall not employ or permit an adolescent to perform any hazardous work in the establishment. Under the Act, the Government shall constitute a Committee to be called the Provincial Committee on Child Labour to advise the Government for appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the eradication of child labour and, subject to Article 11 of the Constitution, to propose the minimum age for purposes of employment in the Province.

Punjab Domestic Workers Act, 2019

The Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019 is a legislation passed by the Punjab Provincial Assembly in Pakistan in February 2019. The Act aims to protect the rights of domestic workers in the province of Punjab, including their wages, working hours, and working conditions. The Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019 strictly prohibits the employment of children as domestic workers. Section 3 of the Act explicitly states that no child under the age of 15 can be employed as a domestic worker. Furthermore, a child between 15 and 18 years of age may only be employed for light work. If an employer is found to have employed a child as a domestic worker, they can face a fine of up to PKR 50,000.

More on Punjab Domestic Workers Act, 2016

Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Act, 2016

The Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Act, 2016 is a law in the Pakistani province of Punjab that aims to prohibit the employment of children under the age of 14 years in brick kilns. The Act makes it illegal for any person to employ or permit the employment of a child at a brick kiln, or to cause or permit a child to work in any capacity at a brick kiln. The Act also provides for the inspection of brick kilns to ensure compliance with the law and for the prosecution of employers who violate the Act. The Act also provides for the rehabilitation of children who are found to have been employed in contravention of the Act, including their education and vocational training. The Act was passed to protect the rights of children and to ensure that they are not forced to work in hazardous conditions at brick kilns and to provide them with access to education and other rights.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2015

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2015 is a law passed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan that prohibits and regulate the employment of children and adolescent under the age of 18 in any hazardous or non-hazardous work. Under the Act, a “child” means a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age and “adolescent” means a person who has completed fourteenth but has not completed his eighteenth year of age. No child shall be employed or permitted to work in any establishment with the exception that a child not below the age of 12 years may be engaged in the light work, alongside his family member, for a maximum of two hours per day mainly for the purpose of acquiring skills, in a private undertaking, or in any school established, assisted or recognized by Government for such purpose. No adolescent shall be employed or permitted to work in any hazardous work included in the Schedule, which lists 4 occupations and 35 processes.  The law also includes penalties for employers who violate the law, including fines and imprisonment. It also establishes a system for inspections and enforcement to ensure compliance with the law. The Act also includes provision for punishment of violators of the act.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015 is a law passed by the government of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which aims to abolish the practice of bonded labor in the region. The law prohibits the taking or giving of any loan on the security of the person of the borrower or any member of his family, and makes it illegal to subject any person to forced labor as a means of repayment of a debt. It also establishes penalties for violators and provides for the release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers. The Act also includes provisions for the establishment of labor courts and the appointment of inspectors to enforce the law and protect the rights of workers.

Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017

The Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017 is a law in the province of Sindh, Pakistan that prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. According to the Act, no establishment or factory could employ a child less than 14. They had to meet strict conditions before employing a child between 14 and 18. Children cannot work in any hazardous occupations.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition of Child Labour and Regulation of Labour
at Brick Kilns Act, 2017

The Act prohibits child labour and regulates child labour at brick kilns, whose hazardous environment can adversely affect children’s growth, health and education. If a child (under 14 years old) is employed, engaged or permitted to work at a brick kiln, the occupier is responsible for this contravention of the Act. In such cases, a labour inspector may close the brick kiln for up to seven days. Violations of the Act are punishable by imprisonment for a term of between seven days and six months, and a fine ranging from PKR 50,000 to PKR 500,000.

Gilgit-Baltistan Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2019

The law prohibits children under 14 from working in factories, mines or any other form of hazardous work. Light work is allowed for adolescents who are between 14 and under 18 years of age, as long as it is done with a family member, lasts no more than two hours per day and is undertaken for the purpose of acquiring skills, in a private or government school. Adolescents are not allowed to do hazardous work. They may not work more than 48 hours per week, work overtime or work at night. Violations are punishable by imprisonment for 7-10 days, a fine of PKR 15,000-30,000, or both. Anyone who procures or offers a child or adolescent for the purpose of prostitution, the production of pornography, pornographic performances or illegal activities such as the production of drugs, trafficking in narcotics or use in armed conflict is liable to a prison sentence of 3-12 months. Whoever employs a child or adolescent in any form of hazardous work, slavery or slavery-like practices such as debt bondage or forced labour shall be punished with imprisonment for 15-30 days, a fine of PKR 20,000-40,000 or both.

Balochistan Employment of Children (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2021

Balochistan Employment of Children (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 2021 to regulate and prohibit the employment of children in Balochistan province. A child is a defined as any person who has not completed  fourteenth year of age, and adolescent or young person is defined as a person who has completed fourteenth year of age but has not completed eighteenth year of age. Children above 12 years and below 14 years are allowed to do work (light work)  which is not likely to be harmful to children’s health and development. No person under the age of 18 years are permitted to work in any hazardous occupations including 4 occupations and 38 processes. Child domestic labour is also listed as prohibited process under the Schedule. Under the law, the Government shall notify the Balochistan Coordination Committee on Child Labour comprises of eight members to advise government for appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the eradication of child labour as per national and international instruments.

Balochistan Forced and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2021

The law was enacted in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan to provide for abolition of forced labour and bonded labour system with a view to prevent the economic and physical exploitation of workers and for matters connected.  The Act also provide penalties for employers who violate the law. Vigilance Committees shall be set up at the District level, consisting of representatives of the District Administration, Bar associations, press, recognized Social Services and Labour Department of Government and elders of the area to advise the government for the implementation of the law.

Challenges and Issues

Child labour is a serious problem in Pakistan, and it is difficult to completely eliminate due to several complex factors.

Poverty

A significant percentage of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, and many families rely on the income earned by their children to survive. Child labour is often seen as a necessary evil for these families, who cannot afford to send their children to school or provide for their basic needs.

Lack of Education

Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, and many children do not have access to education. This lack of education leads to a cycle of poverty and child labour, as children without education have fewer opportunities to escape poverty and are more likely to be exploited for their labour.

Weak Labour Laws

Pakistan has labour laws that prohibit child labour, but these laws are not always enforced or monitored effectively. Corruption and lack of resources in the government can make it difficult to enforce these laws, and some employers take advantage of this situation to continue using child labour.

Cultural Norms

In some parts of Pakistan, it is culturally acceptable for children to work, especially if they are from low-income families. This attitude makes it difficult to change the perception of child labour and to encourage families to send their children to school instead.

Supply and Demand

Some industries in Pakistan, such as agriculture and the garment industry, rely on child labour to keep their costs low. As long as there is a demand for cheap labour, there will be a supply of children who are willing to work.

To address child labour in Pakistan, it is necessary to tackle these complex and interrelated issues. This will require a combination of measures, including improving access to education, strengthening labour laws and enforcement, addressing poverty, and changing cultural attitudes towards child labour. It will also require the involvement of the government, civil society, and the private sector to work together towards a common goal of ending child labour in Pakistan.

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