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UNICEF-RSPN: Promoting Child Rights in Cotton Farming Areas of Sindh

There are 25 million children in Pakistan between the ages of 5 to 16, who are not in school. When a child does not go to school, he or she is vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and exploitation. They are also more likely to be involved in child labor, depriving them of their childhood, their health, their education and condemning them to a life of poverty. With the number of child abuse cases rising each year in Pakistan, there is an urgent need to protect these children and ensure that they have opportunities for a better life.

The engagement of children in the labor force is driven by higher poverty ratios, a practice which is further entrenched due to the widespread acceptance and cultural practice of using children in the labor force. These practices are more common in rural areas of Pakistan, where 27 million children are engaged in child labor in the agricultural sector. The Pakistani agricultural sector has low rates of mechanisation and the use of low wage labor is rampant; cotton pickers are paid as little as 50-80 rupees (USD 0.5-0.8)per day. In order to meet day to day expenses, people from these families often take out loans in advance against their expected income from picking cotton but are not always able to repay these loans, which means they get trapped in a vicious circle of debt. In order to repay loans, these families also engage their children in cotton picking. In addition, the belief that soft hands are ideal for picking cotton encourages the use of young women and children as cotton-pickers.As a result, children drop out of school to work in cotton fields and risk exposure to various forms of violence and abuse.

RSPN has partnered with the Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO) to promote an awareness for the rights of children in cotton picking areas of Sindh and to discourage families from sending their children to work on cotton fields. Funded by UNICEF, this one year project is being implemented in 110 villages in 9 union councils of Ghotki, Sindh, where awareness will be raised among people regarding the rights of children and the negative impact of child labor. By setting up a social fund and offering poor women income generating grants, rural communities will be given the opportunity to earn a better livelihood and stop engaging their children in labor. Multi functional community centers are also being set up to provide adult literacy classes, skills training for women and so on, in order to help people develop marketable skills which they can use to earn a better living.