ISLAMABAD: In Pakistan, the maximum penalty for pledging the labour of a child is only Rs250. This was revealed on Wednesday during a hearing of a child maid torture case being adjudicated by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
Ten-year-old Tayyaba — employed at the residence of Additional District & Sessions Judge Raja Khurram Ali Khan — was allegedly tortured and the judge and his wife, Maheen Zafar, were booked for the offence.
Eradicating child labour
Later, the girl’s father ‘forgave’ the judge and his wife. The SC, however, took suo motu notice in the case and overruled the pardon granted to the suspects by exercising parental jurisdiction.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the apex court was informed that the purpose of the penalties suggested in the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933, was to discourage people from committing such offences and the amount was considered stupendous in the British-era.
The counsel for the Human Rights Commission revealed before the bench that as per the law parents or the guardian making an agreement to pledge the labour of a child can be punished with a fine of Rs50 while the employer could be fined Rs200.
“The law is too old. There is a dire need for making amendments and revising the existing penalties,” he said, adding that the law now did not protect the child against abuses as the penalties are too meagre and do not serve as a deterrent to prevent child labour.
During the hearing, the CJ remarked that the court would not accept the compromise earlier made between the parties in line with the statement of the minor’s father recorded before the bench.
In addition, he said, the court was conscious that the proceedings regarding handing over of the child were conducted in a hasty manner and without verification. “And that, too, to the parents who sold her for money in the first place,” the HRC counsel added.
The CJ inquired how the judge’s wife obtained bail in the case, asking if it was granted on the basis of the compromise. “What kind of a law is this where a child is beaten up and the offence is termed bailable? Why shouldn’t bail be cancelled after reviewing the case altogether?” he questioned.
The counsel for the accused, Sardar Aslam, said the bail once granted could not be cancelled in a case registered under bailable sections of the law and there were several decisions available on this point.
“Haven’t new sections been added in the FIR?” the CJ replied. The HRC’s counsel also added that a bill in this regard had been presented in the Senate but to no avail.
A member of the bench, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, said the case involved issues of child labour, child abuse and involvement of parents, adding that the middleman had also played a role in it. He sought assistance of the attorney general of Pakistan to address the issue, which, he said, was a social issue.
Punjab criminalises child labour
AGP Ashtar Ausaf Ali assured the bench of assistance. He said Pakistan is a signatory to the international agreements on children’s rights and will abide by them. “The prime minister wishes to eradicate this menace,” he added.
Meanwhile, the police informed the court that a DNA report as well as an MLR report was awaited and the police needed time to investigate the case. The court once again granted a 10-day deadline to complete the investigation.
The CJ, however, remarked that the second interim investigation report submitted before the bench shows the suspects and others have not properly been investigated. He said it seemed that the suspects and others have not been asked questions and cross-examined during the investigation.
Refraining to comment further until the final report was submitted, the CJ directed the AGP, advocate general Islamabad, the HRC’s counsel and others to assist the court as to where should the trial be conducted and how such events can be prevented in future.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2017.