Marria Qibtia S Nagra
The disheartening reality is that vile trends on child abuse and labour persist even in the post modern world and Pakistan stands no different than rest of the developing countries that have failed in addressing this grave concern. It is sad to see that momentary governmental attention on concerns of child labor are mandated only when a report or two on such practices makes its way into the mainstream state media. A recent case in point is the unsettling incident of a ten year old girl Tayabba, engaged in domestic servitude, badly beaten, bruised and burned by her employers on the trivial account of losing a sweeping broom.
The potential attempts by the police to protect the perpetrators of violence by downplaying the seriousness of the issue came to be sidelined only when the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the incident , consequently setting up a probe commission that seeks to investigate the causes and dynamics of violence that the innocent girl was subjected to. The sadistic aggression that the little girl Tayabba had to bear is inexplicable, but the fact that she was engaged in domestic servitude, in it qualifies as an abuse mandating objection. The painful injuries received by the little girl shed light upon the apathetic inactivity of the government in the face of this despicable practice and reveal culpable postures of the society that encourages the hiring of naïve children for domestic facilitation. In Pakistan, child domestic servitude has never formally been considered as a form of child labour, by virtue of its partially veiled and imperceptible nature. No one knows of the travails children bear through behind closed doors of their employer’s dwellings when in reality by virtue of their very age, they deserve to live in a protective ambience of love and happiness.
While a report by Child Rights Movement highlights that Pakistan houses around 12.5 million child workers, no credible statistical data is available on the number of children engaged in domestic servitude. This is alarming since it manifests that child domestic servitude is not deemed grave enough to qualify for investigation, when in reality it scars children , instilling in them a sense of hopelessness and entrapment in the face of cyclical contours of violence that they are subjected to.
Apart from this, domestic servitude makes it impossible for children to develop a healthy sense of dignity. Moving around as little slaves, unaware of their rights, these children lose their dignity to feed the dignity of their employers. Eminent Psychiatrist Nathaniel Branden in his highly acclaimed book, Six Pillars of Self Esteem contends that the greater a child’s terror and the earlier in life it is experienced , makes it impossible for him to develop a strong and healthy self esteem. This aptly applies to child workers for whom the horror of displeasing the employer consumes the growth and exhibition of their self and their choices. Most importantly of all, it also breeds delinquent tendencies in young children, making it impossible for them to differentiate between immoral, amoral or moral behaviour. Such children grow up believing in the use of power and violence as a necessary means to attain their end. The words of famed Mexican journalist Allan Guillermoprieto echo the same reality when he remarks that for kids who have never had a chance to exhibit power, though have been subjected to it, delinquency is the only plausible path for them to exert and experience what power and being powerful entails.
Thus, it makes it hard for such children to have a normal childhood that reflects their greatest assets: their naivety and innocence. It needs to be comprehended that for the underprivileged children to go through such disconcerting episodes of turmoil in domestic servitude , especially when Pakistan is not only a signatory to the UN Convention on Rights of Child that mandates basic rights as that to health, protection, food, education and the liberty to have friends to play, but its very own constitution prohibits child labor qualifying it as slavery since no child under the age of fourteen is to be engaged in any hazardous occupation, is astounding to say the least.
In the light of this reality, it becomes imperative to work for the elimination of this gruesome practice .For this fore mostly of all, proper rules and regulations need to be framed and executed that explicitly address the issue of child domestic servitude, qualifying it as a callous crime entailing severe repercussions for the employers as well as the parents of the little child, who do agree to send the child away for economic reasons in the first place. Secondly, institutional strength with focal reference to the police department is an area that needs to be worked upon. The downplaying of cases of child servitude by the police officials, as in the case of Tayabba, expose the institutional weakness of the police department as a whole, where justice for Tayabba is only hoped since the Chief Justice took a suo motu notice of issue himself.
Also, for the rehabilitation of child workers and labourers, Juvenile Welfare Boards need to be set up by the government, which specifically aim at not only rescuing children from such harsh entrapments of servitude, but also encourage their education that is conducive to their psychological and social well being , making them useful members of the Pakistani society.
It needs to be realised that no child’s vulnerability deserves to be used as bait that makes it convenient for him to be engaged in dangerous endeavours all because of the fact that he lacks the agency and power to retaliate against unreasonable acts committed against him. It needs to be pondered that our silence and apathy towards this grave concern today, sadly seals the fate of another innocent child somewhere in Pakistan, who will be propelled into a hellish atmosphere of violence, subservience and apathy, all because of the fact that he was born in poverty. It will be another episode of brutally shameless subjugation standing as an expose of our apathetic social postures.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. She has a profound interest in English literature, psychology & IR.