Recently, the brutal torture of an employer on her 10-year-old child domestic worker, Tayyaba got attention of the media after being highlighted on social media with pictures of the child having scars of torture on her face and body. All this was done in a posh area of Islamabad at the residence of a serving judicial officer. After all the hue and cry of the civil society and media, a case was registered by the local police and the child was recovered from the residence of the judge however; the end result was the same old story where a compromise was struck between the parents of the child and the accused party, the accused were scot free while the child was handed over to the same parents who sold her for 18,000 rupees and never looked back for her. Why was the child allowed to be sent back with the parents who sold her once? Where is the best interest of the child? Who will ensure the best interest of the child? Where is the State?
Unfortunately, as a society, we have accepted these blatant violations of child rights and are immuned to such barbaric acts of violence against children. As a result, children are suffering and their futures are at stake. Civil society keeps highlighting such issues but the state has failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and react. We should strongly condemn the phenomenon of child domestic labour and at every forum demand of both the federal and provincial governments to take solid measures to check growing violence against child domestic workers and respond to the situation both socially and legally.
Tayyaba’s torture by her employers is not the first case of torture of a child domestic worker that got attention of the civil society and media and there were headlines in the media. I would like to share with readers and decision-makers that approximately 50 cases of violence against child domestic workers were reported in the media since Shazia Masih’s tragic and cruel murder in January 2010 in Lahore. I am not sure if some NGO or a journalist is keeping a track of the media reported cases of torture and violence against child domestic workers however, the old data shows that approximately 30 children of these 50 reported cases were tortured to death which proves that child domestic labour is one of the worst and deadliest form of child labour as from no other sector such high numbers of deaths have been reported.
For reference I will reproduce a few names here who were tortured to death and whose cases were reported by the media. Shazia Masih (Lahore), Jamil (Multan) Yasmin (Okara), Shehzad (Gujranwala) Tehmina Qasim (Islamabad/RahimYar Khan), Irum (Lahore) and Fizza Batool (Lahore) to name a few. All these cases show that child domestic labour is one of the deadliest form of child labour in Pakistan. Irum was the 22nd child domestic worker tortured to death and was reported in 2014. Majority of these cases have been reported in Punjab with a few from Islamabad and Karachi.
Despite such a high number of cases being highlighted in the media and being discussed for several days, the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan have failed to respond to the situation. The problem with the Pakistani society is that we have short memories and forget about such cases after a few days. We don’t have any follow-up mechanism and such cases remain in the limelight till the media or some NGOs keep following it. Once the media loses its interest, everyone forgets about it until the new reported case in a few months’ time.
Similarly, the government is constantly in denial mode despite the fact that it has been proved by the brutal torture to death of a number of child domestic workers. A much higher number got injuries including lifelong injuries and a number are missing. There are organised gangs who are involved in internal trafficking of children and are providing children as domestic servants in big urban centres. The federal government is required to put an immediate ban on child domestic labour by adding child domestic labour in the schedule of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) of 1991 through a notification in official Gazette.
The only argument from those in the government against putting child domestic labour in the schedule of banned occupations under the ECA is that it wouldn’t be possible for Labour Inspectors to conduct inspections of houses. In my opinion even where labour department can conduct inspections, what achievement has been made by them or what positive impact is created as for as labour rights in Pakistan are concerned? Agreed that policing is not a solution however, the ban will send a signal to those educated people, bureaucrats, judges, parliamentarians and the common people that this is something against the law. Extensive awareness raising campaigns by civil society will help reduce the number of child domestic workers and will also put the employers on alert against torturing innocent children.
Following Tayyaba’s case, and to begin with, the government should immediately announce a ban on child domestic labour in the homes of parliamentarians, bureaucrats, judges and all government officials.
Similarly, the Chief Minister Punjab is requested to take a proactive action and immediately ban child domestic labour under the schedule of banned occupations of the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Ordinance 2016. This is important as majority of the child domestic workers’ torture to death cases have been reported from Punjab. The Government of Punjab should wake up now and respond to this situation. For resolving the issue of child labour on sustainable basis in Pakistan, the federal and provincial governments should make serious efforts to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan about the right to free and compulsory education for children 5 to 16.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2017.