EU must hold Pakistan to account on women and children's rights violations

Pakistan continues to violate a number of Conventions on the rights of women and children. It is time for the EU to hold it to account, argues Ignazio Corrao.
Ignazio Corrao | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Ignazio Corrao

28 Jan 2019

Slavery, bonded labour and child labour are often considered a thing of the past.

However, in countries such as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, they are an everyday practice and worst of all, endorsed by the European Union’s GSP+ trade subsidy provision.

Sadly, women and children are the primary victims of these repressive employment opportunities.


Modern slavery is common practice in Pakistan, despite the country ratifying Forced Labour ILO Conventions No. 29 and 105.

No reliable figures exist, but the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that there are around 2.2 million people in Pakistan living in modern slavery, most of whom are women working for brick-kiln factories.

Despite being outlawed in 1992, many brick-kilns or brick factories still use this type of labour. Workers in these factories have no rights and are at the complete mercy of the owners.

They are also exposed to occupational hazards that threaten their health, as well as physical and emotional abuse.

“The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates there are around 2.2 million people in Pakistan living in modern slavery”

Reports of sexual harassment, gang rapes or owners forcing families to hand over their daughters as a payment of a loan provide constant cries for the International community to step in and help. The cries fall on deaf ears.

Additionally, child labour continues to be a major concern in Pakistan. Here again, the country has signed both ILO Conventions No. 138 and 182 for the eradication of child labour, yet proper implementation of these instruments is far from being reached.

Legal discrepancy already exists; labour laws prevent the work of children under the age of 14, yet at the same time the Pakistani Constitution requires compulsory free State education for children up to the age of 16.

A national child labour survey has not been carried out since 1996, but partial information estimates that in 2014, 2.7 million children of 10-14 years of age were economically active.

In addition, the ILO World Report on Child Labour (2015) estimates that 1.3 million children of 15-17 years of age undertake hazardous work.

Child labour takes place largely in the agricultural sector. However, the worst, namely bonded child labour, is prevalent in the brick-kiln sector.

As with women, children working there are mistreated, often recruited by militant groups and are victims of sexual exploitation.

Enforcement of the law remains a major challenge. Very few, if any, cases of abuses or bonded labour are prosecuted; penalties are insufficient to deter violations of the law and there is corruption at all layers of law enforcement.

Women and children suffer extensively as a result of these failings and Pakistan’s reluctance to apply the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the CRC.

With these considerations in mind, it is obvious that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is committing gross violations of the CEDAW and the CRC as well as of the four ILO Conventions concerning forced and child labour.

The European Union has a responsibility to monitor and report on the effective implementation of 27 International Core Conventions ratified by Pakistan as part of the EU’s trade preference GSP+ obligation.

The criteria for GSP+ insists that beneficiary countries must effectively implement all 27 Conventions.

The European Union keeps a ‘scorecard’ on Pakistan to this end.

Pakistan has repeatedly been ranked as one of the world’s worst countries for treatment of women and girls, yet Europe still provides GSP+ without any evidence of improvement in their situation.

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