Stitching Footballs: voices of children in Sialkot, Pakistan

The issue of children stitching footballs in Sialkot has become
politicised and commercial interests are at stake. The voices of
child stitchers and their families have been drowned out by the
international clamour for 'solutions'. This situation analysis places
children at the centre of the debate and allows their voices to be
heard; they are voices which ask questions and raise issues
which may be difficult for all involved - in the private sector,
pressure groups, government and international organisations.
Some of the action proposed to address child labour in the
football industry in Sialkot has been based on a limited
understanding of the lives of Sialkot's children, and of child labour
and social development issues. It does not recognise that
despite its problems, football stitching is one of the less
hazardous forms of work children engage in, and that many
families depend heavily on children's income from football
stitching. Rapidly phasing out children's involvement in football
stitching before alternatives are in place may result in them
taking up more hazardous forms of work. It is therefore essential
that fliture action on this issue is based on sound and detailed
information about the lives of football stitching children. This
report is intended as a resource for all those developing such
In February 1997, a Partners' Agreement between the Sialkot
Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), the international
Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF was signed in Atlanta to
eliminate child labour in the football industry, defined as
situations 'where children under age 14 are working in conditions
that interfere with schooling, or that are hazardous or otherwise
injurious to their physical, mental, social or moral wellbeing'.' This
programme will phase out children's involvement in football
stitching over the next eighteen months, and will instigate a
social protection programme in order that children and their
families do not suffer from losing stitching income. The
programme also expands children's access to education. Details
of the programme are outlined in the Partners' Operational
Framework, in Appendix VI. The Save the Children Fund-UK (SCF)
has been working in Sialkot since july 1996 and has joined this
programme in accordance with its mandate to promote the rights
and best interests of children. SCF's work in Sialkot forms an
important part of its strategy for addressing child labour issues in
other sectors and other parts of Pakistan.

This report confirms that children stitch footballs primarily
because they and their families need the money. The western
concept of childhood as a time of few responsibilities is shown to
oversimplifiying the reality of the lives of Sialkot's children. Many
of the children do have some education; it is not just a matter of
stopping them from stitching footballs and sending them to
school to grow into balanced and rounded adults. Their families'
incomes must be protected and improved so that they will not
suffer as a result of changes in the industry and so that children
can afford to gain adequate schooling. The main challenge for the
Sialkot programme is to ensure that the proposed changes in
football production result in sustainable improvements to
children's lives, through protecting and enhancing household
incomes and improving the quality of education so that children
have more incentive to go to school. Communicating the
progiamme effectively to the communities involved will be
essential for its success.
The considerable challenges inherent in this programme can only
be met by an innovative and creative partnership between the
private sector in Sialkot and internationally, the Government of
Pakistan, Pakistani NGOs and Community Based Organisations
with the support, in the first few years, of the international
community represented by the International Labour Organisation,
Save the Children and UNICEF. It is hoped that this combination
of organisations and competencies will provide the basis for the
creation of long lasting institutions which can benefit Sialkot's
children and their families well into the next century
This study represents the most detailed picture of child football
stitchers and their families to date, and is intended be a source of
baseline information for all involved. The Executive Summary and
Recommendations will be translated into Urdu. Other key sections
will be translated as needed. The task now is to use this
information to make decisions which will promote the rights and
best interests of Sialkot's children, especially at a time when the
pressure for results is considerable.
David Husselbee
May 1997

Executive Summary
This report details the findings of Save the Children's research
into the situation of children working in football stitching in and
around Sialkot, Pakistan. It is intended as a reliable baseline on
which Save the Children and other organisations can base
programmes to assist children displaced from football stitching. As
such, it makes a particular contribution to the Social Protection
component of the Sialkot programme. . The organisations
developing programmes in Sialkot will need to collect more
specific data on particular issues before starting their
programming; some of these are highlighted in this report.
Save the Children's research is not intended to establish precise
numbers of children stitching footballs throughout the Sialkot
District. This will be the task of the Sialkot programme's
monitoring component. Nor does this research attempt to
estimate the percentage of football production which relies on
children's labour. Instead, based on a representative sample of
households in villages throughout the Sialkot District it:
highlights the perspectives of the children and families themselves
examines in detail the reasons children work
analyses the probable impact on children and families of
eradicating children's involvement in football stitching and
phasing out home-based production constitutes a basis for
monitoring changes in children's and families' well-being as a
result of the programme

Key findings

1. The vast majority of children stitch footballs because they are
81 per cent stitch to help their families meet basic needs, such as
food, clothing, fodder for the family's animals, and education.
Families where children stitch footballs are, in general,
considerably poorer than those without children stitching. The
need for children to supplement household income has increased
in recent years as the purchasing power of poor households has

2. Stitching footballs does not necessarily prevent children from
attending school.
Rather, they work because their families need the income, and
cannot afford to send them to school. 72 per cent of non-
schoolgoing child stitchers do not attend school because their
families cannot afford to send them. 24 per cent prefer to work
because the low quality education available does not offer them
useful skills for the fliture. Although only 20 per cent of child
stitchers attend school, 58 per cent have received some

3. Stopping children from stftching balls will significantly reduce
family income.
On average, children's earnings from football stitching represent
23 per cent of household income. In many families there are no
unemployed adults or older siblings who can take over stitching
from children.

4. Many women who currently stitch at home will not be able to
go to work in stitching centres. As women constitute 58 per cent
of aduft stftchers in the communities surveyed, this will further
erode family incomes.
This study was unable to quantify the value to households of
women's stitching income.

5. Stitching footballs Is less hazardous than other forms of work
open to children.
Unlike surgical instruments manufacture and brick-making, two
important local industries, football stitching does not involve
exposure to heat, sharp tools, toxic substances or dust particles
that can cause respiratory diseases. Other advantages are that:
it can he done at home, making it one of the few options open to
women and girls, and meaning that it can be fitted around
schooling and household chores; and that it requires no special
equipment. It is therefore perceived as a better option than
these other forms of work.

6. The main disadvantage of football stitching is that it is poorly
compared to other employment opportunities, particularly for
adult men. A person stitching three footballs per day would be
unable to meet all the needs of an average family of 7.9 people
from this work alone. Increasing payments per ball for adult
stitchers would reduce the need for children to work.

7. Children and adults receive equal pay for work of equal quality.
Where deductions are made for poor quality stitching, children's
earnings may be lower than those of adults, as children and
other inexpenenced stitchers usually make more mistakes.
Premium quality balls, which fetch the highest rates, are generally
stitched by adults.

8. Prolonged stitching from a young age can cause damage to
finger joints, back pain, headaches and eye strain.
Where children are stitching full-time with few breaks, their
health may be endangered. However, in most cases, children and
women rarely stitch uninterrupted for hours at a time, but do so
between other household tasks, such as childcare, cooking and
feeding animals and leisure activities, such as playing cricket or

9. Stitching families are not bonded by debt to particular
Children generally stitch to assist their families to produce more
balls, rather than to pay back debts incurred by their parents or
previous generations. The small advances provided to stitching
families by some contractors function as a cheap credit system,
and do not result in debt bondage.

The main challenge for the Sialkot programme is to ensure that
changes in football production result in improvements in the lives
of child football stitchers. It will therefore be vital to:

1. Protect family Incomes through:
1) Increasing payments per ball to adult stitchers to make
football stitching an attractive option for adults, whilst ensuring
that the industry in Sialkot remains competitive.
2) Organising single-sex stitching units at community level to
maximise the possibilities for women to continue stitching. This
will also enable the industry to retain its capacity for production.
Community-based stitching units will also protect the employment
opportunities of people with disabilities who are unable to travel
far from home.
3) Introducing credit and saving schemes and the generation
ofalternative income sources. To prevent children and families
suffering, these must be the immediate priority for community
development initiatives under the social protection programme.

2. Improve education and vocational tmining services
so that they can contribute to improving family incomes. Sialkot
District is well supplied with existing primary schools; these
should be strengthened by improving the quality and relevance of
education and training, rather than building new facilities. Any
new construction should focus on middle or secondary schools.

3. Build the commitment and capacity of all parties involved
to contribute to the programme in Sialkot. Much of the impetus for
this initiative has come from international organisations, and
despite the commitment of the larger manufacturers in Sialkot,
many view the child labour issue as an externally imposed
concern that will be solved by outsiders. It is therefore essential
to develop local ownership of the programme. This will entail
developing strong links between all the partners and a broad
commitment to the programme across the industry. International
organ isations, especially the international business community,
have an important role to play in this process in the first few

4. Give the progmmmes developing under the Atlanta agreement
time to work.
The hasty withdrawal of children from stitching, will present a
serious threat to their wellbeing, and may result in them taking
up more dangerous forms of work, such as surgical instruments
manufacture. Social protection programmes will take time to be
effective in supporting children who are excluded from work. The
first 18 months of the programme will not result in the adequate
social protection of all children involved in the industry, and to
become broadly effective the programme will need at least five

5. Monitor the social impact of changes in the industry
and use information gathered as a basis for the revision of plans
and programmes, to ensure that all action is in the best interests
of children. This is best carried out by non-governmental and
community-based organisations in the Sialkot District,
independently of the formal monitoring system to be organised
by the industry and external auditors. The international partners
may have a role in assisting Sialkot-based organisations to
develop systems and capacity to carry out this process.

6. Ensure that all action taken is based on a full understanding of
the reality of the lives of children in Sialkot District
in order that all actions taken lead to real improvements in
children's lives. Many of the conclusions that have been drawn by
those outside Sialkot have been based on a limited perception of
the realities of children's lives. This will no longer be the case if
clear and detailed information is provided and used, and if Sialkot
people and organisations are more meaningfully involved in the

Save the Children's approach SCF will:

Identify and work with partner organisations in the Sialkot District

develop income-generation, credit and savings programmes to
provide alternative income sources
develop community-based approaches to improved school
form women's groups, which may, among other activities, make it
easier for women to continue football stitching under the new
production arrangements
strengthen the capacity of partner organisations to monitor the
social impact of the programme and incorporate lessons learned
into social protection programmes
Raise awareness internationally concerning the complexity of
issues relating to children's involvement in football stitching
Collaborate with all parties involved in the Project Coordinating
Committee and the Sialkot Implementation Team to facilitate the
effective implementation of the programme.Owner: Rachel Marcus



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