“Karachi is like Dubai for the rural class,” said Aurat Foundation’s Karachi Resident Director Mehnaz Rehman while addressing a panel of doctors and related professionals at a seminar organised for the International Women’s day at PMA House on Thursday.
This year, Society of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists of Pakistan, Pakistan Medical Association and Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health organised a seminar focusing specifically on the working girl child.
Rehman was pointing towards the hordes of girl children migrating from rural areas in search of labour who face inhumane behaviour from their employers. She shared an example of a seven-year-old whose face was burned with an iron by her employer. “Poverty, over-population and urbanisation are the chief causes of this trend.” She said that while the media reports only physical torture, the mental torture that such girls go through also demands attention and care.
Dr Shershah Syed, who termed girl child labour ‘modern day slavery’, had a special pamphlet prepared of the story of a girl child who migrates to the city from Punjab in search of labour and the working conditions she faces. Dr Shereen Bhutta, the head of the obstetrics and gynaecology at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, pointed towards the double standards that exist in society about women. She shared an example of a family friend whose family has strict protection for their own daughters and women but none for the maids they hire.
Dr Nusrat Shah of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at DUHS and CHK pointed out that the perception that rape is common in only the poor is untrue. “The crime is irrespective of education, money or social status,” she said, giving examples of cases like Dr Shazia, Mukhtara Mai, the JPMC nurse.
Dr Aisha Mehnaz, the head of paediatrics at DUHS and the chairperson of Konpal, a child abuse and prevention society, said that according to one estimate, about eight million children are involved in labour but the number of girl child labourers has never been counted.
Only 56 per cent of children are in primary school of which two thirds drop out. She linked the annual growth rate (3.43 per cent in 2009) of the country to early marriages and childhood mortality. Also, data shows that child abuse for boys decreases after puberty but rises for girls.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.