Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Killing for carpets -- slavery and death in Pakistan's carpet industry

In Pakistan, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 children between the ages of four and fourteen work full-time as carpet weavers. UNICEF estimates that children make up 90% of Pakistan's carpet industry. Boys aged seven to ten are preferred for their dexterity and endurance. They earn one-quarter to one-third the salary of adult weavers, and they are obedient. They are from Pakistan's poorest families, sold by their parents to put food on the table. The parents are on average paid about $200 for five years of their sons' labor. After the expenses for a child's food, training, tools, and raw materials are taken out, the balance is paid to the parents in installments as long the child is working, in some cases up to ten years.

Child labor is epidemic in Pakistan. 11-12 million children work full-time, half of them under 12 years of age. Only one-third of school-aged children attend school. The children of the poor, especially the lowest castes, begin to work as soon as they can walk, plowing fields yoked together and seeding and harvesting crops. Brick factories, sports-equipment factories, steel mills, and stone-crushing plants employ children. They have no education, no sanitation, and no health care. Children are a commodity -- bought and sold like cattle, but unlike cattle, they are smarter, and they are cheaper to run than a tractor. In fact they are treated worse than tractors or cattle.