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Pakistan Cracks Down on Ball Makers

July 3, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Stitchwork over schoolwork is a problem the soccer world is trying to eliminate.

A vast majority of soccer balls are made in Pakistan, mostly in the Sialkot region. For years, children have been used to stitch the balls, and officials are cracking down on that practice.

``It’s not just a question of removing children from the workplace,″ said Kari Tapiola, deputy director general of the International Labor Office. ``They must be provided with visible alternatives, namely education. Otherwise, it only would result in a shifting of child labor to other and probably worse areas.

``We need determined, clear, time-bound programs.″

Through a consortium called the Partnership to End Child Labor in Soccer, the ILO (through the U.S. Department of Labor), Pakistani manufacturers, the British government and FIFA have made major contributions. A total of $4.5 million has been applied to ridding the industry of child labor practices.

Many children _ estimates ran as high as 7,000 _ often spent their days working on balls, not attending class. Workers receive about 60 cents per ball, which is a good wage in the area, and parents are reluctant to give up the income to send their children 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 Silakot 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 we’ve established savings and credit programs (through Pakistani banks) for them, as well as developing other income options for the families _ as tailors, in transport or agricultural work.″

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

``We all understand that the complete elimination of child labor can only come over a period of time,″ Tapiola said. ``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. By September, it’s expected to increase to 50 percent and we aim for 100 percent in the middle of next year.″

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