This occupation is banned under the ‘Employment of Children Act 1991’. However, the law is not applicable in homes and child labour is widely used by poor families in rural areas. For these communities, involving children in the work is often the only way families can sustain a livelihood.
As well as depriving children of an education, carpet-weaving can have a serious affect on a child’s health. From a study conducted last year, carpet-weaving children were frequently found to suffer from persistent knee, back, shoulder and neck pain caused by long hours spent in a crouched position. Girls more often suffered from musculoskeletal problems, since they usually worked longer hours, had less physical exercise of other kinds and suffered from a poorer diet. Social and psychological stresses among the children were also common.
But new hope is being offered to child workers in Pakistan. In its recent report ‘Children in Hazardous Work’, the International Labour Office (ILO) reports on the success of new weaving technology in helping to reduce the number of children involved in the carpet weaving industry. A new ergonomic loom has been designed in a project coordinated by The Occupational Safety and Health Institute. The loom is the right size for adults to operate, but not children. However, families do not lose out. With the improved design of the loom, adult weavers are more productive and are able to produce more complicated designs. These help the weavers achieve a higher price for their textiles and the resulting extra income raises the likelihood that families can afford to send their children to school.
In addition, the design of the loom helps to improve the health of those working with it. Back and foot rests have been added, ‘nip’ points have been eliminated and the loom is freestanding. This means it does not have to be fixed to an interior wall and can be placed where there is plenty of light and ventilation. Within 18 months, a follow-up study of 30 families showed that adult workers using the loom reported fewer injuries and health complaints.
The global export market for handmade carpets is worth billions of dollars each year and the industry is important for Pakistan’s economy, particularly for poor rural regions. Any technology which can help raise productivity and reduce the need for children to work is therefore extremely welcome to Pakistanis.