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Garbage picking in Pakistan

In this post, Concern's Mhairi Owens recounts meeting a young child labourer in Pakistan:

I’m in the city of Quetta in the province of Balochistan in Pakistan.The streets are busy with men and carts drawn by horses. In piles of stinking rubbish are garbage-picking children.

These children are sent by parents to salvage plastic bottles and animal bones to garbage depots where they are paid a pittance for the recyclable materials and are vulnerable to both injury and disease and abuse from adults. The children can expect to earn around US 60 cents a day.

I meet Noorbibi in one of three daycare centres in the city run by Concern’s local partner Water Environment and Sanitation Society (WESS). The centre provides health and hygiene services, basic schooling and vocational training. 

Noorbibi thinks she is 10. Her mother told her that she had to go out to pick garbage and help support her three younger siblings when her father was sent to prison, almost two years ago. In addition to picking garbage she must collect water on her way home. She tells us the only thing she likes about her life is the centre. Here she can see her friends and watch cartoons. She hates everything about garbage collecting and wants to stop it and go to school.

Later on, in the plane flying back to Scotland, I wonder about the real opportunities for change for children like Noorbibi. As a development agency we are placing a lot of faith in empowerment of those whose needs are greatest. Does Noorbibi even know that in many countries it is considered inhumane for children like her to work?

I’m browsing to see what the inflight duty free might offer nowadays and I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. Of course, there are the expected opportunities to purchase Armani bags for only several hundred dollars and a few air miles. But now you can buy a private concert with a Sony BMG artist. Price tag: $2,300,000. 

I think about past celebrations I’ve attended at Glasgow Green, with rousing speeches from Tony Benn and other workers‘ champions. A celebration of the contribution workers have made to building nations. I think then about child workers Noorbibi, who can’t go to school and who spends her days in dangerous, degrading work. It seems there is a long way to go in distributing our benefits. Duty free indeed.