Normal and dangerous child labour culture
THE recent heartbreaking news of two brothers; brutally beaten and tortured by their employers with one succumbing to his injuries while the other remains in critical condition, has shaken the society to its core.
But as harsh and inhumane as it may sound, it’s not an unfamiliar sight in a country where concrete laws protecting domestic workers is still a far-fetched thought.
According to the statistics by the International Labour Organization (ILO) last year, Pakistan has more than 8.5 million domestic workers, among which mostly are women and children.
And some of them are frequently suffering from abuse and ridicule at the hands of their employers.
A highly disdaining situation which shines the spotlight on the incapabilities of the system to hold the culprits accountable with stern punishment.
This incident comes close to a similar murder case where a young girl was beaten to death by her employers for releasing caged, valuable birds. And these are just those cases which have caught the attention of the media.
Far too many similar stories of torment and torture, including unaccounted sexual assaults lies behind closed doors.
Child domestic labour is easily one of the leading concerns poisoning our society right now.
The biggest dilemma lies where whole families including underage children as young as 5 years old are well adjusted into the ‘business’ where employers consider it justifiable to make them work long hours on account of being provided accommodation and food as well.
In 2019, Punjab province made a historical movement when it passed a law which is going to bar child labour in homes and extended labour law and social security to all domestic staff.
It enumerates various rights and entitlement of domestic workers. The law forbids the use of the word “servant” for a domestic worker.
It prohibits the engagement of a domestic worker in a labour system or forced or partly forced labour system.
The Act further proscribes discrimination against a domestic worker on the basis of religion, race, caste, creed, sex, ethnic background, and place of birth/residence.
But while it is one thing to make a law- it’s a whole nother thing to actually have it implemented effectively.
Since the emergence of covid-19, there has been a rise in the hiring of domestic helpers.
Which means there is no accountability and check into how many children are illegally being employed.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma is the lack of awareness from domestic workers themselves. They are not well-equipped with and have limited knowledge on their rights when it comes to the constitution.
There is only a limited number of registered domestic workers within the system. This is far from the expected target which means the government is unaware of the exact figures of hired domestic helpers.
Domestic child labour is a dominating culture which unfortunately will not die out anytime soon.
The societal framework which is adapted through generations of practice makes child labour a rather civil and acceptable practice.
Only when the demographics of a socio economical society is stressed, and when we are able to instill in our youth the understanding of the serious consequences of having little children work hard hours of labour, will there be the hope of practical adaptability.
Alone a regulatory system continues to lack efficiency and is otherwise just a non-functional law.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.