ZAHRAH NASIR Arriving at a friends home for lunch recently I was stunned to see a young boy, a mere eight or nine year old, hard at work hosing down and sweeping the yard. The criminal waste of water aside, the boy, a rather skinny yet neatly dressed child, should not have been there but at school instead. Plus, and this made the situation more intolerable than ever, these particular friends had always spoken out, most vehemently, against child labour in any shape or form. What to do? one of my hosts asked when challenged. His father is our driver and he brings the boy along to do odd jobs and earn some cash. We can hardly refuse as then the boy would simply hang around doing nothing. You have always spoken out against child labour, I observed still shocked at the scenario. Time and time again Ive heard you say that children like this boy should be given the chance to go to school so that, in time, they learn enough to be able to get decent jobs to improve their standard of life. Yes, of course Ive always said that and always will, but what am I to do with this boy. If I tell his father not to bring him goodness knows what the child will get up to in his absence. Why isnt he in school? I asked. His father says that sending him to school costs money, even government school as he would need decent clothes and money for books, and while we do pay the driver adequately he claims that the money quickly goes on rent, utilities and six children in total. His wife works as a maid at a house close by and she takes the two youngest children with her, but Ive no idea where the other three go. Youve repeatedly said that those who employ adults, such as your driver, should ensure that their children go to school, even if it means paying the minimal costs personally. You even said that this could be done, instead of giving a bonus at Eid, as such a gift as education would be far more meaningful in the long term than money for a new suit of clothes. Why dont you put this boy through school yourself? Oh that would be far too problematic, she said waving a manicured hand in the air. Firstly, I wouldnt even be certain that he was going to school at all. Secondly, it would be a responsibility I really dont have time for right now. What I have done, though, is instruct my eldest son, the one whos just started college, to teach this child to at least read and write when he has the time, although I dont want it to interfere with his own studies of course. Anyway, enough of this idle chatter. Come on inside and get settled. Ive had the cook make one of your favourite dishes. Look, I said feeling more than a little angry. I really cant stay for lunch after all. I would feel too uncomfortable to even think of relaxing, while this child labours outside. Perhaps, I can help put him through school, as it is his human right. I know I live at a distance, but would sincerely hope that, with the money for books and things, his father will ensure that he does go. Let me go and talk to him. Absolutely not. You really must not interfere with my employees you know and, besides that, you must stay for lunch. Dont let a little thing like this come between us when weve been friends for so long. Come on now and we wont mention it again. Sticking to my guns and my principles I left. I do regret the loss of a friendship yet, as the 'friend turned out to be a hypocrite; perhaps, the loss is not so regrettable after all.. The reason for relating this very personal incident will be obvious to those of a like-minded nature but, or so it appears, there are far too few of us around. The subject of child labour does, occasionally, arise amongst members of the educated classes, most of whom point towards those unfortunate children, some of them as young as five or six years old, toiling away in brick kilns, motor repair places, the carpet industry and in agricultural employment, but few of them, if any, apply the term child labour to the boys and girls they themselves regularly employ. The maids nine-year old daughter is old enough to do the ironing, wash clothes, peel the vegetables, do the dishes and the dusting, and old enough to be paid a pittance for her labour. The cooks eleven-year old son is old enough to wash and sweep floors, clean windows, polish shoes, wash cars and any other 'odd job that crops up and, exactly like the maids daughter, will be paid next to nothing for his efforts. The children of the 'house though, be they younger, the same age or older, will be spoilt rotten, given everything they could wish for, along with an education they may or may not relish and will, no doubt and given time, fondly recall their childhood years as being the golden days of their life. But the children employed in the house, though, will have a very different tale to tell: One of deprivation, hard work and forever tarnished by the education they didnt get. It is way past time that those preaching against child labour and publicly crying out that each and every child has the right to be educated turned their empty words into meaningful action. The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.