“A, B, C….” She points at letters written in white chalk on a blackboard and reads out loud. The class – a collection of undernourished, disheveled, but keen children – follows with a shrill chorus of voices.
Rubina, who lives and works at a brick-kiln in Gujranwala, wakes up at the crack of dawn to help her father make mud dough for bricks. She then goes to the non-formal school for children at a brick-kiln in Gujranwala.
“We’re three sisters and four brothers,” she says. “We get to work on the kiln early in the morning after my father prepares the clay mixture for bricks. Our work starts at birdsong, at early dawn. While father works the mixture, we assist by making clumps and using the brick templates. We keep working for the better part of the day and then go home. The studies come later. This is what we have to do. We can’t have proper jobs like Baji [the teacher] – we have to do what we do.”
|If the children study, they will be able to do better, ... and to find decent jobs."|
As education and literacy are a pre-requisite for implementation of the decent work agenda, the ILO works with the Punjab Literacy Department to provide opportunities for brick-kiln workers and their children to acquire literacy and education. The ILO helped develop a curriculum for adult and child learners that enables them to understand their labour rights, child labour issues and decent work components. By establishing 1,000 non-formal basic education schools in 11 districts across the province, the Punjab Literacy Department plans to target as many as 30,000 students, mainly focusing on children in brick kilns.
Millions of children and adults work as bonded-labourers in brick kilns all over Pakistan. They are a specialized workforce, usually but not always members from the Christian minority, which has become adept at brick making, if only because they can’t break free from it.
“If the children study, they will be able to do better,” says Rubina’s father Mohammad Bhutta. “They will become teachers or do other, better work, such as working with computers, and be able to find decent jobs. This work – making bricks – is back-breaking and you only get a pittance.”
|I tell them if you have schooling you won’t be exploited."|
“I tell them you should study even if you are working,” says Tehmina, Rubina’s teacher. “I tell them if you have schooling you won’t be exploited. You will be able to negotiate and manage your earnings. You will not be at a loss. You will benefit”.
The ILO-designed curriculum for non-formal education teaches children and adults about issues such as child labour, educational needs, class room environment, teacher behaviour, basic labour rights and duties of workers as well as adult literacy. It also provides guidance on mother and child healthcare, water-borne and communicable diseases and the promotion of rights of persons with disabilities. The curriculum gives a grounding in the role for communities and stakeholders in addressing child labour issues in addition to information on the workplace environment, fundamental rights, employment and dealing with liabilities. It has helped the Punjab Literacy Department develop a cadre of 100 master trainers and 400 teachers (200 adult literacy teachers and 200 non-formal teachers). They will in turn train instructors of about 3,000 non-formal basic education schools and 6,000 formal education schools to teach the new curriculum.
“Overall, the end beneficiaries of this initiative are expected to number one million,” says Pervez Ahmed Khan, Secretary of the Punjab Non-formal Education and Literacy Department.
When the class ends, Rubina rushes to join her family in the field, helping her father make bricks. So do other children, many of them as young as five years old. Born into families in bonded labour who work at brick-kilns, the children are growing up in a trade that could trap them, as it has trapped other generations.
“Only those who complete studies like Baji [the teacher] did, don’t have to work at the kiln,” says Rubina. “I want to be a teacher like Baji when I grow up.”