Football helps eliminate child 'ball stitching' labour

With only a pile of bricks serving as goalposts and white lines drawn in the dust, the 20 or so boys running after the ball with enthusiasm and energy defied the scorching 47°C heat in this industrial city in northwestern Pakistan. Far away from the luxurious lawns of the German stadiums during the World Cup, this football match was organized under an International Labour Organization-IPEC project designed to remove children from labouring in cramped and dangerous workshops and get them into schools and onto the playing field. For the boys on the field, it seemed like more fun than their former tasks of stitching football or making surgical instruments, Fibre2Fashion reported.

The same week, ILO-IPEC, the football world body FIFA and the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry officially launched a pilot project to incorporate football matches into their existing child labour prevention and elimination programmes in Sialkot District. The pilot represents the newest phase of the Elimination of Child Labour in the Soccer Ball Industry in Sialkot project, launched in 1997, which has become a proven trendsetter in combating child labour in Sialkot District through combining workplace monitoring with education, health and social protection programs.

In 1996, trade unions helped bring to light the extent of child labour in the football industry of Pakistan. As of 1997, the ILO, through IPEC, has worked with the Government of Pakistan, FIFA, the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry , trade unions, manufacturers, UNICEF and NGOs to combat it. While in 1996, an estimated 7,000 children were working stitching footballs, IPEC monitors have found no instances of child labour at the soccer ball stitching centres since March 1999, and the bulk of the production had been transferred to these centres from homes.

IPEC and its partners succeeded in educating more than 10,000 children through 255 non-formal education centres, and mainstreaming 5,800 of them into the formal education system. Jobs for women were secured by setting up a number of all-female stitching centres.

Raising awareness of the value of education and the negative impact of premature involvement in work for children has contributed significantly to the goal of eliminating child labour in the football stitching industry and more widely in the Sialkot area. Today, efforts continue to remove children from the less than 5 percent of stitching workplaces that do not participate in the monitoring programme and other branches, including the surgical industry. Thanks to the ILO-IPEC programme, most of these children removed from work attend formal schools in Sialkot, or having successfully completed their schooling, are now working under improved conditions in local factories. The district Government spends around 70 percent of its budget on education, and has passed a resolution to make Sialkot a child labour-free zone.