Global Human Rights Defence

Child abuse among child labourers in Pakistan: New research reveals a critical situation for minorities

Child abuse is one of the most shameful and despicable existing human rights violations. Violence against children is nowadays a significant global public health concern, and it has to be considered as such (Elliot, 2017). Researches report that one billion children worldwide, aged 2–17 years, experience some form of violence annually (Hillis, 2016). Moreover, violence is a complex phenomenon, and it can be, at times, challenging to determine when a specific behaviour becomes abusive or violent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either result in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (WHO, 2018). This violence can include deprivation or emotional, physical, or sexual harm to the victim (WHO, 2017). One in every four adults underwent at least one form of violence during childhood, and about 12% of children were sexually abused in 2017 alone. Furthermore, about 90% of the global deaths due to violence occurred in low and middle-income countries (WHO, 2018).

Pakistan has a high frequency of violence, although this is negligently underreported. Recently, there has been a substantial increase in the reporting of violence in the country. In 2016 alone, 4139 child sexual abuse cases, an alarming 11 cases per day, were reported (Sahil, 2016). At first glance, this could sound like terrible news. However, the increase in the reported numbers does not directly imply an increase in child abuse; perhaps, it could be explained also as an increase in the confidence to speak up and report the same abuses that might have already been happening in the past but went unreported. Therefore, under this light, the importance of supporting the victims and their families should be even more glaring. In a country where protecting children against sexual abuse is such a challenge, there is a second major threat hovering over Pakistani children: child labour. At the start, it was regarded as a social evil in Pakistan, but eventually, it has transformed into a major national issue. Child labour is rooted in poverty: it is an attempt from parents to make children contribute to the family finances (Nizami, 2021). Sexual exploitation for those involved in child labour is so commonplace that many children just end up complying, thinking this is a norm (Nizami,2021). Pakistan’s first and only National Child Labour Survey (1996) revealed that over 3.3 million children in the country were trapped in child labour, a quarter-of-a-century ago. More than two decades later, although the number of children in the workforce has surged exponentially, the unavailability of updated statistics has been a major obstacle for child rights advocacy (Abro, 2021). 

According to UNICEF, children in Sindh between the ages of four to fourteen constitute a major portion of the carpet industry’s workforce (UNICEF, 2014). Workshop owners looking for cheap labour convince parents to take their children out of school and into the workforce. Uneducated parents, that are financially weak, force their children to work to increase finances. As children are cheaper to hire since they are paid less, this helps to increase profit margins. Children can sometimes work up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and are often deprived of sleep and food. These children eventually have health issues like weakened eyesight and breathing problems (Nizami, 2021).

According to rough estimates, the number of child labourers in the country has climbed from 3.3 million in 1996 to over 20 million in the last 24 years (Abro, 2021), meaning that over 20 million child labourers are likely to be deprived of health, education and other human rights. “All out of school children in the country are considered to be child labourers. Presently some 20 million children are out of school in the country, and we believe all of them are involved in child labour”, stated the Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC) Provincial Representative Kashif Mirza while talking to The Express Tribune on the matter (Abro, 2021). 

In Sindh alone, the third-largest province of Pakistan, four million children work as labourers in different sectors and at least 1.8 million children work in the agriculture sector (Iqbal et al., 2021). The Hindu Sindhis community are one of the most affected minority groups, and they make up for 8% of the total population in the Sindh region. In this regard, new research (Iqbal et al., 2021) from the Department of Community Health Science of the Aga University Hospital Karachi has been recently published in the most recent EMHJ journal published by the World Health Organisation (WHO)(1). This research investigated violence and abuse among working children both in urban and suburban areas of the lower Sindh region (Iqbal et al., 2021).  The results show a predominance of Sindhis children working in the agriculture sector (87.5%), whereas Punjabi dominated among the manufacturing, domestic and hotel and restaurant sector (Iqbal et al. 2021, p. 503). It’s important to note that the majority of the Hindu Sindhis live in rural areas of the country. Therefore, this highlights a further discrimination underway in this region based on ethnicity that affects differently the city areas (with their domestic and hotel/restaurant sectors) and the rural areas (where agriculture is predominant).

The research pointed out a problematic situation, where more than 20% of the children involved experienced emotional abuse, 19.1% and 8.5% respectively physical and sexual abuse. Furthermore, all forms of violence were highest among the agricultural workers! The Pakistani penal code(2) addresses sexual harassment but failed to take account of the hidden forms of violence such as touching, kissing, oral sex, etc. However, the researchers emphasised the increasing sensitivity of the Pakistani judges. Notwithstanding, one of the recommendations is to revise the provincial legislation to make a law able to include and address all forms of violence, and to protect the minority most at risk (News Desk, 2020).

Child labourers exposed to an unprotected environment are at a higher risk of abuse compared to children living in a safer environment (UN, 2020). Violence poses long-term emotional and physical effects on the children involved. The emotional consequences include depression, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, social isolation and panic attacks (Gross, 1992). These children are more likely to suffer from poor mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviour and criminality (Pretoria NRF, 2018). Moreover, according to a statistical analysis of violence against children by UNICEF (UNICEF, 2014), physical violence is the leading cause of injury and death among children.

In a country where protecting children against sexual abuse is already a challenge, the increasing number of child labourers poses a dangerous threat to children rights and wellbeing in Pakistan  Furthermore, minority groups are more vulnerable to these threats than the dominant ethnic and religious community as the research by the Aga University has shown in the case of Hindu Sindhi children (Iqbal et al., 2021). First and foremost, there is an urgency to raise awareness on the topic, both in the affected communities and at the institutional level. The research (Iqbal et al., 2021) highlights the importance of a governmental will to substantiate the actual effort of several non-governmental organisations. Secondly, further research will have to be carried on to assess the effective dimension of the intertwined issues, namely child abuse and child labour among minority groups. To do that, it is necessary to continue collecting more data and reports to understand the scale of the issues involved. As shown by the new research considered (Ibid), the number of voices that is still in silent suffering is always higher than we expect.


 1) The journal is specifically the East Mediterranean Health Journal (EMHJ) Vol.27 No. 5, and is a journal that covers research in the area of public health and related biomedical or technical subjects, with particular relevance to the Eastern Mediterranean region.

 2) The full version of the Pakistan Penal Code can be fund at Section 509 is the one that specifically addresses sexual harassment.

Abro, Razzak (2021, May 2). Sindh to update its child labour figures. In Tribune.

  Bureau of Statistics Punjab, Government of the Punjab. (2014)  MICS 2014 final report. Lahore: 

  Fry DA, Elliott SP. (2017). Understanding the linkages between violence against women and violence against children. Lancet Glob Health. ;1;5(5):e472–3. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(17)30153-5. 

  Gross AB, Keller HR. (1992) Long-term consequences on childhood physical and psychological maltreatment. Aggress Behav.;18(3):171–85.<171::AID-AB2480180302>3.0.CO;2-I

  Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, Kress H. (2016) Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates. Pediatrics. ;1;137(3):e20154079. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-4079. 

 International Labour Organisation, (2017). International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). Mining and quarrying. Geneva:–en/index.htm. 

  Islamabad: Sahil; (2017). Cruel numbers 2016: a compilation of statistics on child sexual abuse of reported cases in Pakistan.

 National Research Foundation; (2018).  Effects of violence on children. Pretoria:

  News Desk. (2020). 8 children are sexually abused every day in Pakistan, report. Retrieved from: World Health Organisation, (2017) Child maltreatment: the health sector responds. Geneva:. ry_prevention/violence/child/Child_maltreatment_infographic_EN.pdf?ua=1.

  Nizami, Azfar Rabia (2021, March 31). The menace of child labour in Sindh. In Tribune.

  UNICEF; (2014). Hidden in plain sight: a statistical analysis of violence against children. New York: cations/index_74865.html.

  United Nations (2020 June 12). World day against child labour New York: against-child-labour.

  Wionews, (2021, August, 5). Pakistan: August 14th is the darkest day in the history of Sindh, says Sindhi Foundation.

  World Health Organization (2018) Violence against children, child maltreatment. Geneva: ry_prevention/violence/child/en/.

  World Health Organization; (2018) Violence Prevention Alliance.The ecological framework. Geneva:

  World Health Organisation (2018) Violence Prevention Alliance. Definition and typology of violence. Geneva:. http://www.who. int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/.


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Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
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Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
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Prerna Tara
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Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

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She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Bianca Fyvie
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Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
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Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
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Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
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Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International &amp; European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
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prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
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parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.