Helsinki (07.04.1999 - Juhani Artto) In the Pakistani village of Pattal Munda 60 children have become schoolboys and girls. A school was recently inaugurated, co-financed by the Finnish trade unions. The goal is to complete in two years the course that normally takes five years in Pakistani state schools.

The pupils are 6-12 years of age. All study reading, writing, maths, religion, English and natural sciences. In the second year the older children will also take vocational subjects. At the request of the Finnish donors, half of the pupils are girls. Female enrolment in primary schools in Pakistan was only 45 per cent of male enrolment in 1990-1996.

In Pattan Mulan local trade union activists have played an important role in convincing the children's illiterate parents of the benefits of school education. More children applied to the school than could be admitted.

Since 1996 SASK, the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland, has co-operated with the 42,000 member Pakistan Textile and Garment Workers' Federation (PNTLGWF).

The school project is part of the Finnish trade union movement's campaign against child labour. The Pattal Munda children used to work as shepherds, to assist their parents in work at home and to participate in producing shoes, carpets and textiles in the nearby towns.

This year the Finnish organisations are investing FIM 150,000 (FIM = EUR 0.17 or USD 0.18) in the school project in Pakistan. This money is used for rent, for the salaries of two teachers and of other staff, for school bags and uniforms, for health inspections and care, for educational materials and for food.

The Chairperson of the Finnish Textile and Garment Workers' Union, Pirkko Oksa - who represented the Finnish donors at the recent inauguration - believes that the school project will rapidly reduce participation by children in working life in Pattal Munda. Going to school will keep boys and girls at home instead of being sent to work in nearby towns. Child health and consciousness of children's rights will improve. The trade union movement and its influence on the child labour problem will be reinforced.

Oksa says that the project will also have positive consequences in Finland. "The project gives us valuable information on the complex child labour issue and helps us in Finland to continue the necessary discussion about the problem and ways of tackling it."