Maria Qibtia S Nagra
THE horrifying abuse of domestic child workers in Pakistan is a matter regaining immediate consideration. The recent demise of child worker Zohra, who came to be mercilessly kicked and killed by her employers for accidentally freeing their exotic parrots, signals a petrifying reality with respect to the sad vulnerability of domestic child workers in Pakistan.
It was not long before that we heard of the innocent Uzma battered to death with a ladle by her employers only because she dared to consume food from her employer’s daughters plate. Always underfed and made to sleep on a cold floor, little Uzma lost her life for one morsel of food! Or how can we forget the young 12-year old boy Taqi Usman whose employers clubbed him to death since he forgot to feed their domestic pet! Such monstrosity subjected to innocent credulous little children yet what we do is apathetic and silent in the face of child servitude?
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that about 12 million children constitute Pakistan’s labour force. From amongst this figure, about 264,000 innocent little children are approximated to be employed in domestic settings. Half of these children are sadly below the age of 10. Despite being shunned by the HRCP, Pakistan Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the normalisation of child work in Pakistan is not only unethical but also signals our collective culpability in failing to put a definite end to this menace.
Despite drafting and presenting its very first Bill on domestic workers , the Domestic Workers Act in the year 2013, which ultimately came to be passed by the Senate in 2017, little has been achieved with respect to safeguarding domestic labour rights in Pakistan. The law aimed at bringing domestic workers under the jurisdiction of labour laws in order to protect their rights, to ensure their welfare and to guarantee their social security, directing their employment conditions along with a seamless provision of health facilities.
The trajectory does not simply end here. Even if the domestic labour laws come to be implemented, and child domestic abuse comes to be prohibited, in the absence of viable alternatives and safety nets, the danger of leaving our child workers in a worse off state is quite plausible. From being victim of abuse at their employers homes, they will move onto become victim of their unfortunate circumstances.
In the quest for convenient money acquisition they may have a depressing street life, a consideration of prostitution, much likely in the case of girls. For instance in 1993 when garment employers in Bangladesh fired about 50,000 child workers in fear of their imports being banned by US for engaging child workers for their production, since no alternatives came to be presented to these child workers, many resorted to prostitution and stone crushing.
This came to be remedied only when ILO, UNICEF and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Associations jointly established schools for these children’s rehabilitation, encouraging families to send them for education by offering attractive stipends. For Pakistan, a rectification of its child domestic workers quandary requires an exigent consideration for viable livelihood alternatives to such workers. Only this will constitute an amicable solution to this conundrum.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Hong Kong.