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Pakistan soccer ball industry seeks end to child labor

child sews soccer ball
Imtyaz stiches a soccer ball
April 9, 1998
Web posted at: 12:20 a.m. EDT (0420 GMT)

From Reporter Kasra Naji

SIALKOT, Pakistan (CNN) -- Eleven-year-old Imtyaz goes to school in the mornings and works in the afternoons in this city's thriving soccer ball industry.

He is considered lucky. About 7,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 have no time for school because they work full-time manufacturing soccer balls, earning about 50 cents for each ball they produce.

As the World Cup approaches, bringing with it the specter of bad publicity, the local industry has committed to putting a halt to its use of child labor over an 18-month period. It even wants international help to send the children to schools instead of into the factories.

As the industry begins to clean up its act, big buyers like Nike, Reebok and Adidas have set up model factories that use adult-only workers. The workers also are paid slightly better -- almost $2 a day.

Sialkot's acquaintance with soccer balls began when British soldiers brought the first ball to town about 100 years ago. Since then, the city has grown to become the soccer ball capital of the world, with exports of almost $200 million a year. Three out of every four match-grade soccer balls sold throughout the world are meticulously hand-stitched in the city.

This year, sales are expected to increase by about 25 percent because of the excitement generated by the upcoming World Cup games, which will be held in France. But little of the profits trickle down to the families who work in the factories.

Many local people feel reform is doing more harm than good. They believe Western pressure may deprive local families of another source of income and drive children to other hazardous jobs.

Observers say a better solution would be for factories to pay high enough wages to adult workers so that their children do not need to work.


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