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Pakistan Cracks Down on Child Labor

July 2, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Halfway around the world where soccer balls are made, officials have cracked down on child labor. The controls seem to be working, although the problem isn’t close to being wiped out.

Most of the balls sold under 64 international brand names in the multimillion-dollar business are made in the Sialkot region of Pakistan. For years much of the work, particularly stitching, was done in homes, with entire families involved.

That meant children _ estimates ran as high as 7,000 _ often spent their days working on balls, not attending school.

More than $4.5 million has been allocated to the Partnership to End Child Labor in Soccer, with major contributions from the International Labor Office (through the U.S. Department of Labor), Pakistani manufacturers, the British government and FIFA.

``We all understand that the complete elimination of child labor can only come over a period of time,″ Kari Tapiola, deputy director general of the labor office, said Thursday at a World Cup news conference. ``We need determined, clear, time-bound programs.

``The goal of progressively shifting manufacturing to larger centers from the homes is now being met step by step. We can say child labor clearly is decreasing.″

As of March, 25 percent of the manufacturing had shifted to the centers, she said. By September, it’s expected to increase to 50 percent, with a goal of 100 percent by mid-1999.

Moving production to the stitching centers makes it easier to monitor who’s making the balls. Local inspectors visit the centers, unannounced, to ensure no children are working. They have found 101 underage workers in ``hundreds″ of inspections, Tapiola said, and only 13 during the most recent surprise visits.

Each worker makes about 60 cents per ball, a good wage in that area of Pakistan. Because most families struggle to make a living in Sialkot, stitching is an attractive profession. Many parents prefer their children earn money, not go to school.

David Husselbee, program director for Save the Children, which is overseeing educational, cultural and social protection programs in the area, emphasized the need to move carefully toward solving the child labor problem.

``We don’t want to take the children out of this and have them go into more serious forms of work,″ Husselbee said. ``In 37 villages, schools were set up and teacher training is done. Over 3,000 children have benefited. We found a lot of children were not going to school because of the poor quality of education. Improving it is very important.″

In 45 Sialkot communities, Save the Children workers have held awareness-raising sessions to stress the need for education.

``We also must protect family incomes,″ Husselbee said. ``We found 80 percent of the children were working because the families needed the money for basic needs. So savings and credit programs from Pakistani banks were established for them, as well as developing other income options for the families _ as tailors, in transport or agricultural work.″

Community-based stitching centers have been encouraged so that women who can’t travel long distances can work close to home.

One of the manufacturers, Reebok, brought U.S. national team star Julie Foudy to the region to inspect the centers and talk with locals, particularly children, about the importance of schoolwork over stitchwork. The company also set up an educational program currently attended by 40 children.

``I left feeling good about it. Hopefully, a lot of companies are at least acknowledging there’s a problem now and will try to do something about it,″ Foudy said.

Shawn Neville, president of Reebok France, said having Foudy there ``was like a rallying cry for the children.″

``It gave them some inspiration that someone from a top team in the world cared enough to come and talk about it and encourage them to concentrate on their education,″ he said.

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