FIFA has given its full backing to a number of incentives designed to highlight the importance of human rights and education for children around the globe. One of the key issues to have been tackled is raising awareness of and attempting to curb child labour.

Click here to watch highlights of FIFA’s two-day visit to Sialkot, Pakistan.

The ILO, through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) launched the 'Elimination of Child Labour in the Soccer Ball Industry' programme in Atlanta in 1997 and has worked in close co-operation with the government, manufacturers, FIFA, trade unions, Save the Children, UNICEF and various local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

The project has been a trendsetter in combating child labour in Sialkot, Pakistan. The successful combination of workplace monitoring with an education and social protection programme, together with an increased awareness among the children and their parents as well as communities at large about the value of education and negative impacts of premature involvement of children in work, has contributed to the progressive elimination of child labour in the city.

Since the inception of the programme in 1997, FIFA's participation has been crucial to its success. FIFA's financial support for these child labour initiatives amounted to USD 1,100,000 in the first two phases. For the third phase, FIFA has already committed additional USD 540,000. 

A success story
The statistical success of the first phase (1997-1999) has its own importance because the project ended up educating 10,572 students through 185 non-formal education centres, mainstreaming 5,838 of them and providing health cover to 5,408 students. It also succeeded in cleaning up 95 per cent of the manufacturing line of the hand-sewn footballs in the Sialkot district.

The real contribution of the project, however, goes far beyond these tangible targets and lies in the social transformation that it was able to perform on the community. The most telling long-term impact of the ILO-IPEC Soccer Ball Project was convincing the people of the Sialkot district that children must not be denied their right to be children or their right to education, recreation and health cover. It has changed the way the general public looked at the issues of child labour and education, and built up a rich social capital to sustain those beliefs. The people of the Sialkot district are now convinced that child labour is a social evil that must be eliminated with all means at the disposal of a particular individual, family and community.

The second phase of the programme (2000-2004) mobilised remaining manufacturers (around 50 in all) to join the project, included monitoring of education centres to ensure children removed from work remain in school and also moved towards area-based approach to capture children stitching outside registered centres. It transferred responsibility of monitoring from IPEC to an independent body and worked to ensure financial sustainability for both monitoring and social protection components. 

Purpose of the mission to Pakistan
In order to define the most suitable approach and implementing partners for the next phase of the FIFA-ILO/IPEC programme to fight child labour in Pakistan for the forthcoming years, a mission to Sialkot was organised jointly by ILO/IPEC, FIFA and the WSFGI (World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries).

Two representatives from ILO/IPEC, the General Secretary of WSFGI, two representatives from FIFA and a representative from the Pakistan Football Federation travelled to Sialkot for a two-day visit. The mission examined the various elements of the programme, manufacturing centres and schools in that region.

The Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry - with its President Dr. Nouman Idris Butt - held an impressive reception for the delegation, and praised the support that FIFA has been giving to the programme as well as its importance in the radical attitude change in respect to working children, not only in the ball industry but also in the Sialkot society.

The first day of the visit consisted of a formal meeting with all the members of Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the local government and the community in which the current situation of the programme was presented and possible scenarios for its future were outlined. Apart from the main focus of the discussions, FIFA expressed its sadness for the dramatic situation in the Kashmir region and offered its respects to the families of the victims of that very recent tragedy.

The second day consisted of visits to various stitching centres, local NGOs and schools in both the formal and non-formal education systems, which gave the participants a great insight in the achievements of the programme so far and the challenges for the future. 

The next steps
Based on the lessons learned and on the discussions conducted with ILO/IPEC while in Pakistan, FIFA is now working on a concept paper for next phase of the programme, starting in 2006.

Given the fact that the monitoring part of the programme has become independent and stands very much on its own feet, financial resources will mainly focus on the social protection component of the programme. FIFA will, however, contribute to the creation of communal monitors, as a further effective way of controlling a child-labour free ball production in Sialkot.

The FIFA-ILO/IPEC programme has provided children taken away from work with formal or non-formal education. It will now enhance this support by including sport (football) and recreational activities for the children in the centres established under the project. The implementation of these activities will be done by local NGOs.

Upon request of the young girls who have been removed from the stitching centres in 1997 and are now finishing their mandatory school, FIFA and ILO/IPEC plan to start a non-formal education pilot project that should allow a continuation and a better education to them.

A replication guideline of the Sialkot experience will be finalised soon in order to replicate the positive model of the FIFA-ILO/IPEC programme in Pakistan, in other regions and industries.