A recent study carried out by PILER on brick-kiln workers revealed that most of the children work with their parents and are bonded since birth. Most children found on the brick kilns fall into the age group of 10-14. They are exposed to extremely high temperatures and brick dust, which causes lung infection, skin problems and eye allergies. Their posture at work causes backaches and joints’ pain. Those who work in automobile workshops use petrol as solvent to clean auto parts.
Inhalation and absorption of petrol through pores pose multiple health problems such as depression, low red cell count, skin diseases and even skin cancer, due to the presence of benzene in petrol. Breathing petrol fumes can also be addictive. A great number of children also work in agriculture. Exposure to pesticides and other agrochemicals may cause poisoning, cancer and impairment of reproductive organs. In southern Punjab and Sindh, young girls reported a variety of lung diseases during cotton-picking season. Another factor that puts child workers at risk is the design of work.
The patterns and schedule of work, i. e. , eight-hour work shifts, one break in the middle, design of tools, workstations and protective gear, are all designed for adults. Even though child labour is rampant in all parts of the world, more so since globalization and in low-income countries, no legislation is carried out to check these hazards. WHO’s Study Group on Children’s Work has summarized a few findings: The eyesight of children working with very fine wire, performing carpet weaving or embroidery, or working in microcomputer factories is damaged within 5-8 years.
Children using hand tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers designed for adults, are said to have higher risk of injury and fatigue. Children using seats and benches designed for adults have more muscular and skeletal problems. When children find that the protective gear does not fit them, they work either without it or use makeshift arrangements such as tying a handkerchief over their nose instead of respirators, or using coloured glass while welding. Young workers have lower tolerance to heat than adults and face a greater danger of heatstroke.
In addition to all these hazards, most children are malnourished and have lower level of resistance than other healthier children of their age. The Government of Pakistan ratified the ILO Convention 182 regarding the immediate elimination of worst forms of labour, but no local legislation followed for its implementation. In 2001, the government announced the National Policy and Action Plan to combat child labour, but that, too, is impractical and has no connection with the hard realities.