Millions pushed into child labor in Pakistan

Tue Feb 7, 2012 6:37am EST
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By Serena Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Tears tracing lines of dirt on his face, six-year-old Pakistani boy Nabeel Mukhtar cries while crouching on a pavement to scrub motorbikes, his job for nine hours a day, six days a week.

He is one of millions of children driven into labor by poverty in a country where the unpopular government is seen as too corrupt and ineffective to care for its citizens, even the young and helpless.

"I want to study and become a doctor but we don't have any money," said Mukhtar, who helps his family make ends meet.

Rising food and fuel prices and a struggling economy have forced many families to send their children to search for work instead of to the classroom.

Frequent political crises in U.S. ally Pakistan means the South Asian nation's leaders are unlikely to end child labor, or a host of other problems from a Taliban insurgency to power cuts, any time soon.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to send my son to school but we have so many expenses ... We struggle to put food on our table," said Mukhtar's mother, Shazia, who also has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

Her husband, Mohammed, a street barber, earns only 7,500 rupees ($83) a month, not enough to support the family.

"He's learning to work and he also earns around 300-400 rupees. So what's wrong in that. We are poor," Mohammed said of the boy.   Continued...

<p>Khizar, 12, leans on his push cart while waiting for work in a wholesale market in Karachi February 1, 2012. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro</p>