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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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
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.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

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.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

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

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

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
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International &amp; European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia &amp; America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.