For millions of children in Pakistan, the thought of going to school is an impossible dream. Instead, they work in fields or at home to help their families earn an income.

Not only does this mean that they’re likely to be stuck in a lifelong cycle of poverty, but it leaves children—particularly girls—vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

The IKEA Foundation is working with Save the Children and UNICEF to fight the root causes of child labour in Pakistan’s cotton industry, already giving over 176,000 children direct access to projects aimed at preventing child labour. By the end of 2017, the projects aim to help over 4 million children in Pakistan’s cotton-growing areas.

Since 2009, the Foundation has donated nearly €8 million and has committed a further €9 million to support innovative projects run by Save the Children and UNICEF in Pakistan, part of our wider commitment to promote children’s rights and fight the root causes of child labour in India and Pakistan, where many of IKEA’s textile products are sourced from.

The root causes of child labour

IKEA has strong policies in place to prevent child labour in its supply chain and works actively to deliver them, and the IKEA Foundation is able to go beyond the factories and into areas which are often harder to reach. The Foundation supports programmes that address the reasons children work in the first place.

There are many reasons why children end up working. High levels of poverty, lack of schools and well-trained teachers, inadequate healthcare systems, and harmful cultural practices all contribute to the problem.

To end child labour, all of these issues need to be tackled. The IKEA Foundation funds projects that:

  •    provide access to a quality education for children
  •    work with families, farmers and local communities to change attitudes   towards child labour
  •    help families find other ways to support themselves economically, providing a better future for themselves and their children.

Helping children who live in poverty

Thirteen-year-old Palwasha is one young girl whose life has been changed by the programme. The oldest of five siblings, Palwasha and her family used to be wandering beggars living in extreme squalor in Pakistan. Her father then became a labourer in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty, but his earnings could only provide one meal a day and Palwasha was forced to drop out of school in third grade.

Then Save the Children used funding from the IKEA Foundation to develop community organisations and child clubs in Palwasha’s village, raising awareness of children’s basic rights.

Child clubs use a unique approach in which child facilitators conduct life-skills trainings for their peers. These child facilitators also arrange meetings with parents of school dropouts and encourage them to send their children back to school.

Palwasha, luckily, became a member of the child club. For the first time in her life she learned about fundamental child rights, including her right to an education, health and protection. It made a profound impact on her and she tried to convince her parents to enrol her back in school.

Her mother, who also attended awareness sessions, supported her daughter and fully encouraged her. According to Palwasha’s mother, “I was under the misconception that education would spoil my child, filling her head with negative ideas. The sessions, however, cleared that false impression and I now fully encourage her to get an education. I am grateful to the team for saving my daughter’s future.”

Now, after three long years out of school, Palwasha is back in school again. Palwasha says proudly: “I am very happy that I am studying again and I am grateful to the child club, which is working for children like me. Now I am a member of the club too, and promise to spread awareness and work hard for the betterment of other children.”

A long history of promoting children’s rights

IKEA has worked with UNICEF and Save the Children for over a decade. The two organisations were instrumental in the development of the IKEA policy against child labour in its supply chain, ‘The IKEA Way on Preventing Child Labour Code of Conduct’, launched in 2000.

Building on this work, the IKEA Foundation has been funding UNICEF projects to improve children’s education, keep children out of work and provide a healthy start in life since 2001, and has funded similar Save the Children projects since 2006.

Elisabeth Dahlin, Save the Children’s Secretary General Sweden, said: “The strategic, long-term programmes funded by the IKEA Foundation in the cotton-belt states of India and in Pakistan are a unique example of how different sectors can work together to obtain lasting and sustainable positive change for children, their families and whole communities.

“Children forced into child labour in these states are helped to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families, by raising awareness around children’s rights and improving the quality of education.”

Since 2000, the IKEA Foundation has committed €60 million to tackle the root causes of child labour in India and Pakistan, aiming to prevent children from working in the cotton, metalware and carpet industries. By the end of 2017, over 16 million children across India and Pakistan will have been reached by IKEA Foundation-funded projects aimed at preventing child labour in the three industries.

Find out more about our partnership with Save the Children

Read about our partnership with UNICEF