Child labour and the tobacco industry in Pakistan

Thanks to our colleagues from The Network for Consumer Protection, Pakistan who provided the information and video in this post. (

This video shows children in northwest Pakistan preparing tobacco leaves to be sent for drying. Children as young as five years old also work in tobacco farming, where they are vulnerable to poisoning from pesticides and other tobacco sicknesses.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is the main tobacco growing region of Pakistan. This video was filmed in July 2012 in Sawabi district, where 50% of KPK’s crop is cultivated. With low economic development, few employment opportunities and a literacy rate of around 36%, tobacco is a major cash crop and tobacco farming is usually a family business.

Pakistan Tobacco Company (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) and Philip Morris Pakistan Limited both source tobacco from these areas.

The exact number of children working in tobacco is not available, but the high poverty levels mean that children working in tobacco farming is a common sight in this area. It is an issue that receives scant attention from the government and media. Tobacco is considered a major source of revenue for the Pakistan government.

Although the government has a tobacco control cell, it also owns the Pakistan Tobacco Board which is responsible for tobacco promotion – resulting in toothless enforcement. It has been accused of not taking tobacco control seriously by farmers who say they do not want to grow tobacco, but feel they are forced to do so by poverty and government inaction to help them move to alternative crops.

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