Cotton growing districts and Children’s Action against Oppression and Neglect
By Meena Gabeena, Senior Officer Communications
Pakistan is a large producer of cotton in the world. Globally, Pakistan produces 9% of the total global cotton production and is considered the fourth largest producer of cotton in the world and the third largest global consumer as per the Country Report for Pakistan at the 71st Plenary Meeting of International Cotton Advisory Committee. Until 2009, there has not been a child protection system to prevent and respond to child rights violations in any of the cotton-growing districts.
Save the Children commenced a child rights programme funded by IKEA Foundation, labeled as CHAON – Children’s Action against Oppression and Neglect in Muzaffargarh (Punjab) and Sanghar (Sindh) over the period of 2009-2014. The purpose of the project was to improve the lives of children in cotton growing districts of Pakistan. The integrated project had four thematic components including child protection, education, livelihoods and health. The project addressed root causes of children’s issues and 199000 children benefited from different project interventions.
“I used to go to school in my younger years, but because of the lack of money, I dropped off and have now rejoined after a gap of 7 years. Thanks to CHAON project! I'm now in grade 8 and attend the second shift classes after completing my house chores in the morning. I've realized that through attending school I have learnt how to better utilize my God gifted talent and have learnt to effectively manage my time. I speak much more fluently now and am more aware of personal hygiene and the importance of cleanliness in general.” – Riffat
The end of the project saw a 20% reduction in Child Marriages. Child labour decreased from 31% to 25% in Muzaffargarh and 44% to 13% in Sanghar. One of the main reasons for forcing children to work is poverty which pushes families to send children to work in hazardous conditions in addition to a mix of non-child friendly socio-cultural values, structural inequalities, inadequately resourced and incomplete public child protection systems putting children at risk to abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect. There is also Poor quality, access and non-inclusive basic education, leading to non-attendance, dropouts and in turn fuelling child labour. Working hours of children were decreased to 3.5 hours daily through economic empowerment interventions.
The lack of knowledge besides the lack of access to and availability of skilled work force for quality healthcare was of grave concern contributing in children’s absenteeism from school due to sickness. 80% children in Muzaffargarh and 86% children in Sanghar after CHAON’s awareness programmes had now knowledge about personal hygiene. Children absenteeism from school due to sickness was also reduced from 45% to 26% in Muzaffargarh and 58% to 48% in Sanghar. Knowledge regarding antenatal care had also been increased by 35% in fathers and 30% in mothers. There was a clear difference seen when 20% increased deliveries were seen in project health facilities than non-project health facilities. 49% and 50% of mothers initiated breastfeeding within first hour of birth as compared to 22% and 42% in Muzaffargarh and Sanghar Districts respectively before the start of project. The remarkable advocacy initiatives helped Punjab include health and hygiene messages in primary school textbooks for schools all over the province (developed under the project).
As a result of Save the Children’s livelihoods interventions; compared to Child Rights Situation Analysis 2011, where 88% of the House Holds had an income of less than PKRs 10,000 per month, the evaluation survey found that only 25% sampled House Holds were left with an income of less than 10,000 per month showing a growth rate of 63% for income increase. There was a 17% increase in the spending on education in Sanghar, and a 31 percent increase in Muzaffargarh. With respect to the spending on health, the percentage increase was 14 % in Sanghar and 5 % in Muzaffargarh. There was also a 12-21 % increase in the spending on food. Dropout rate for girls and boys had been reduced from 12% to 8% in Muzaffargarh and from 32% to 10% in Sanghar. It significantly improved for girls in Sanghar from 43% to 11% but it did not make much different for girls in Muzaffargarh, as it is 12% against the 11%. Save the Children also ensured child participation by establishing a district child organization in each district. There were thirteen child councils developed on Union Council level.
CHAON project proved that integrated approach can help in addressing root causes of children’s issues. District child protection systems have been established in Sanghar and Muzaffargarh through empowerment of communities & children, building capacities of civil society and strengthening government departments.