Teenage migrant labourers lose their childhood in Karachi's Machar Colony slum

Teenage migrant labourers lose their childhood in Karachi's Machar Colony slum

KARACHI: Every morning when most of the children leave their home for school, teenager Asef ur Rehman, rushes to a fish processing factory to work instead of going to school as helper to the workers in the factory.

Young Rehman works for more than twelve hours a day during which he carries fish from the ice boxes, cuts the fish into small equal parts and cleans the place at the end of day.

Every day, after getting up from his bed, he walks through the narrow streets filled with filth and construction debris, of one of the biggest slum settlement of Karachi with around 1 million populations, the Machar Colony, to reach at the factory. Majority of the residents of the colony are migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma and they are not been given any legal residential document.

Rehamn returns when sun sets behind the ships anchored at Karachi port and almost all the children have finished their games. When he is busy working in the factory, the children of the same age in his neighborhood play on the heaps of garbage.

International Labour Day was observed on Monday around the world, but no is ready to concentrate on young labours of Machar Colony.

Despite working for long hours, Rehman earns only Rs 250 per day, which is even not handed over to him and is deposited with manager as an installment of the loan his mother took for treatmenting his father.

His father Nazeem, a Bengali speaking professional fishermen, fell ill three years ago and started suffering with a strange and unknown disease for which his relatives claim that he is suffering with magic. Nazeem has become so week that he is unable to move and is bed ridden.

His mother Zoharin has no money to treat her husband and to feed his five siblings. She asked her relatives to help but no one came forward. She took her son Asef to the local fish processing factory and asked for loan of Rs 30,000 so that she can arrange her husband's treatment and handed over her son to the manager so that he can work as helper. But despite treatments and even contacting faith healers, her husband has not recovered from his disease .

"I am working here since last two years, but manager of the factory still claims that in all these months I have paid only the half of the loan that my mother took and still I have to work for another two years in this factory," said 16-year-old Asef.

He said that the work he is doing is very difficult during which he has to take frozen fish from the ice boxes and cut them into pieces and he also gets injured sometimes. "I want to go school and also want to play but I have no other option," he said.

He is not alone, but in this ill-fated slum settlements there are many other children who become elder of their families even during their childhood. Due to the poverty, the parents are forcing their minor children to work and become bread and butter earner for their families.

Though, in Pakistani society, child labor is a common issue, but in slums like Machar Colony, it is worst, as most of the residents are Afghans, Bengalis, Burmese and officially they are termed as illegal immigrants and are not allowed to work and whenever they go outside the colony police catches them and asks them to show their identity and takes heavy bribes to let them go. In such conditions they prefer to work inside the colony, where there are fewer chances to find a job and also the wedges are very low.

"The residents are poor and they are not educated and also due to the increasing prices of the living and with lot of children, they prefer to send their children to work instead of sending them to school," said Abdul Haq, a young man who runs an NGO inside the colony.

Among other children, sixteen year old Babur who sells drinking water to the locals and is known as Pani wala. Carrying blue color plastic containers, which were actually made to carry the chemicals, are being used to fill the drinking water on a wooden pushcart and to supply it to different neighborhoods. His mother Bano Abagul, a window and mother of four, an Afghan refugee who lives in the colony since last ten years, has no adult male member in the family to feed her children and also to pay the rent for the small house located in the Shamsi Mohalla.

"There is no legal connections of the drinking water in the colony, so most of the people buy water and to supply the water I needed a pushcart, containers and also some money to pay in advance to the person selling the water, therefore I started working as water supplier with a local shop that sells water," said Babur. In the colony, some people have tempered main pipeline and have started selling the water, that's how it is being supplied to the colony.