We continue to face the worst form of abuse in shape of child labour abuse within closed doors. While a majority of households in posh areas have employed children as domestic workers, there is little that has been done to ensure their safety and their emotional, physical and psychological well-being.
Recently, there’s been an outcry after the incident involving Zohra, a child domestic helper, came into the limelight. During the lockdown in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, children like Zohra have become more vulnerable within the fancy walls they serve in. These fancy houses of the privileged are sometimes no more than prisons for these young souls. Zohra Shah was a seven-year-old girl who was employed to take care of a boy the same age as hers. She was brutally murdered only because she accidentally set free expensive parrots belonging to her employers. About the horrific incident CPO Muhammad Ahsan Younus said, “Violence and physical torture against children will not be tolerated and all those involved in such incidents will be dealt with.”
Some 8.5 million people — including many children — are employed as domestic workers in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Pause and Think! Children who get employed have absolutely no chances of getting any sort of education, which means they shall serve one employer or the other their entire lives. These are not just children who belong to poor families, they are future of this country, a future that is wasted in the rattling sounds of utensils they are supposed to wash for the rest of their lives or their fate matches with someone like Zohra.
Similar to the case aforementioned, there was a massive social media outcry in 2018 over pictures of 10-year-old Tayyaba’s bruised face and hands. She had been working as a maid for a judge and his wife. The couple were cleared of assault allegations but convicted of neglecting an injured child and sentenced to one year in jail. Uzma is yet another girl whose battered body was found in a canal when she ate from her employer’s daughter’s plate. Her wealthy employer was charged with murder. According to police, Uzma died after receiving blows to the head with a kitchen utensil. She had been working for the family in Lahore for eight months. The court gave its decision of acquitting Mahrukh, her daughter, Aima Naeem, and sister-in-law after Uzma’s family withdrew their statements against the killers of their daughter as they reached a settlement. The family told the court that they were given Rs. 2.5 million as ‘blood money’.
There is an imperative need for a discourse as to why some people have succumbed to treating these domestic workers worse than animals? Does money really buy justice here? Will the murderers or the perpetrators never be punished because they can coerce the family into accepting blood money in case their child is brutally murdered? Why do parents allow their children to have the best facilities money can buy and yet in the same house force a child to sleep on a bedbug infected mattress or even the bathroom floor? The society as a whole seems to have degenerated to a level where we have little conscience, paltry humanity and a small memory.
While, at times the public does create an outcry, which is always short lived and not much actions are taken to curb such incidents from happening in future, the theory, in forms of The Constitution of Pakistan along with federal and provincial laws does protect children who are vulnerable and destitute. Theoretically, it is illegal to employ anyone below the age of 15, but unfortunately, it remains a common practice in Pakistan. After much hue and cry, last year, after 8 years of debate, Punjab passed a law called, The Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019. The law expressly states in Section 3 that ‘No child under the age of 15 years shall be allowed to work in a household in any capacity’. However, after a-year-and-a-half of the enactment of this particular legislation, it still requires efforts of the law enforcement agencies for the implementation of these laws, hence safeguarding young children from life threating employment within homes of the affluent.
Pakistan being a signatory to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has passed a few laws in accordance with this international legal instrument. However, the frequent incidents like the Zohra Case are a clear manifestation of poor compliance and weak enforcement mechanisms, or will. Punjab, in order to protect children, enacted The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004, under which the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau was set up. However, until 2017 the meaning of destitute never encompassed children who were forced into child labor. The Amendment made in 2017 further added, “destitute means anyone who … is at risk owing to disability or child labor.” Although this Bureau is known for its efforts in protection, there is still need for more sensitive institutions, which can safeguard our children in any possible setting.
However, millions still continue to suffer due to lack of willingness by the enforcement agencies to see children as a human resource and the future of this country, or maybe there is a general lack of humanity. Millions of children today suffer from sexual assault, slavery, human trafficking, drug abuse, forced into begging, child labour and as domestic workers. These children have the fundamental right to life and protection, which is the responsibility of the state to ensure. Moreover, the state institutions dealing with children need to ensure proper emotional and psychological sensitivity in order to boost their self-esteem, for them to feel belonged and loved, and providing them with an environment where they can thrive as responsible citizens and later on positively contribute to the society. HH
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