Child labour in Pakistan on the rise a year after devastating floods

With their parents still unable to find jobs, children are being sent to hazardous areas to scour for badly needed income

Omar Waraich
Wednesday 27 July 2011 00:00 BST

Child labour has surged in Pakistan in the year since record floods devastated much of the country, as some of the poorest families continue to be deprived of their livelihoods in local economies that show few signs of recovering.

The 2010 monsoon floods submerged Pakistan on an unprecedented scale, with 10 years' worth of rain falling in the space of a week. Two thousand people were killed and another 20 million affected. Two million homes and 10,000 schools were destroyed.

In a report released today, the UK-based charity Save the Children warns that the number of children forced to work has risen by up to a third in areas worst hit by the floods. With their parents still unable to find jobs, children are being sent out to hazardous areas to scour for desperately needed income.

"A year on from the floods and many of the children caught up in the disaster are struggling to survive," said David Wright, Save the Children's country director for Pakistan. "We need to get them out of work and back at school."

The spike in child labour comes as families have watched their incomes fall by up to 70 per cent over the past year, the report said, drawing on a survey of over 2,300 households in the worst flood-affected areas. A third of the families affected have failed to gather the sums required to rebuild their homes.

With incomes at perilous lows, the 10 million children in flood-affected areas are also being denied the food they need to survive. Save the Children warns that nearly a quarter of the children are suffering from "acute malnourishment".

The ordeal over the past year has also left them mentally scarred. Nearly half of the families the charity spoke to reported that their children suffer from nightmares, phobias and other psychological conditions. In one district in southern Punjab, a tenth of the children had resorted to smoking hashish or sniffing glue as a means of coping.

The report is the latest in a series of alarming revelations of the scale of the suffering that endures in Pakistan's flood-affected areas. As a fresh monsoon season begins, there are also pronounced worries that the country remains vulnerable to fresh flooding.

In a separate report released yesterday, Oxfam warned that the Pakistani government had failed to take adequate measures to prevent another disaster this summer.

Oxfam called on the government to spend more money on reconstruction, better housing and the installation of the early-warning systems that would have helped mitigate last year's tragedy.

"Pakistan needs to act now. Investing in measures today that reduce the impact of disasters is essential to save lives and safeguard development gains in the future," said Neva Khan, head of Oxfam in Pakistan.

"It will ensure schools built with aid funds are not washed away and that farmers can keep the crops they have toiled over. A year after Pakistan's mega-floods, it's time we learnt this lesson."

According to the report, 37,000 people continue to shelter in camps in the southern province of Sindh, the worst hit last year, in the searing summer heat. Some 800,000 families across the country, Oxfam said, remain without adequate housing.

In light of the fresh fears, Pakistan's crucial agricultural output could be hit. Farmers are taking precautions by setting down fewer crops as a safeguard against their being washed away.

However, Pakistani meteorologists have said that there is only a low risk of floods this year.

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