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Pakistan: Rising violence against child domestic workers

Rising incidents of violence against child domestic workers

By Amir Murtaza
September 4, 2012

During the last couple of montsh, Pakistani newspapers and TV channels have displayed many terrible stories of violence against innocent children, especially against child laborers including domestic workers. An analysis of media stories revealed that violence in the workplace has emerged recently, and sadly children, both male and female, are the primary victims of such occurrence.

Lamentably violence has become a routine rather than exception in Pakistan and this violence is not only confined to one layer or one particular area of our social structure but it is seeped into the entire social system. The news of political violence, ethnic violence, sectarian violence and violent crimes has also been increased in manifold in recent years.

Organizations working on child rights have repeatedly showed their concern on increasing vulnerability of children in the country. Madadgaar National Helpline through a Research Report informed that the Helpline’s Database had documented 2331 cases of violence against children from January 2012 to June, 2012. The Report further stated that these violence cases include murder, rape, sodomy, honor killing, torture and other inhuman acts. Madadgaar Helpline has been working for the elimination of violence against children and women for more than a decade in Pakistan and the facility has provided help and relief to thousands of innocent children and women.

Advocate Ashraf Suleman observed that protection from all forms of violence is a fundamental right of every child. He added that acknowledgement of such high number of violence cases, against children, clearly show that government has failed to tackle the issue of violence against vulnerable sections of the society.

Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stated:

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.

Nazia Ikram, a sociologist, observed that, “Violence in the home and especially against domestic servants has been in practice in South Asia, since long; however, lately media has highlighted some shocking cases of violence in the home.” She added that it is always difficult to get data on cases of violence in the home. Additionally, the victim in the house, either a family member or domestic servant, rarely approach to the institutions for any redressal, due to their inferior status.”

It is a fact, though upto date data is not available, that domestic service is a large source of employment for children, both boys and girls, in all big cities and towns of Pakistan. A 2004 report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) informed that 264,000 children working in domestic sector in the country.

Rabia Aziz, a freelance writer and a social worker, remarked that, “Child domestic workers provide very important services to their respective families. They work for long hours and provide help in each and every domestic work for a very nominal salary.” Rabia Aziz observed that number of child domestic workers often experience harsh and humiliated attitude in the homes.

Workers are generally protected under certain national legislation, laws and acts; additionally, forums such as trade unions also provide protection and ensure implementation of laws. It is a disturbing reality that recruitment and working terms and conditions of child domestic workers are not documented, at any stage of the employment. This verbal agreement makes child domestic workers vulnerable to all unjust and unfair practices.

Uzma has been working as a domestic servant for last two years. The twelve year old girl belongs to interior parts of Sindh province. Uzma informed that, “I was hired on Rs. 1000/= per month and over the period of last two years my responsibilities have enormously increased; however, increase in per month salary is only Rs. 400/=. I have told the Madam that Rs. 1400/= per month is absolutely not sufficient for such huge work but rather than listening to my request she gave me dismissal notice.” Uzma is now seeking a new job, while the family has hired another girl for Rs. 1000/= per month.

Child labor has been in practice for a very long time in poor and developing countries, including Pakistan. Poverty, large family size and lack of opportunities for adults have forced many children to financially contribute in the earning of their families.

Kashif Farooqui, an Islamabad based gender expert, informed that engaging and sending young children to work as domestic servants is a widely recognized practice, especially among the impoverished communities in Southern part of Punjab. He added that families of these working children have very meager financial resources; therefore, small contribution of these children play significant role in family’s overall income.

Kashif Farooqui also shared the case study of Salma, a thirteen year old domestic worker in Multan. Salma’s father died in a road accident and therefore she along with her mother, who also works as domestic worker in another house, is helping the family to meet both ends. She works daily, without any leave, for twelve to fourteen hours, and her responsibilities include cleaning, dusting, washing dishes and clothes, ironing the clothes, making tea for elders and feeder for the infant and serving the meal. Salma gets Rs. 2000/= per month for such hard work. She informed, “Baji (the house owner) is very strict and never forgive any mistake. I always try to work carefully; however, the most difficult part of my job is to go to the market and buy grocery. I really hate errand as often people in the market throw indecent comments that makes me uncomfortable. I always wanted to leave the job and restart my schooling, but we need to settle the debt taken by my mother from Baji.”

Basharat is thirteen and he has been working as domestic worker since the age of eight. Basharat said that, “During last five years, I worked with many families. In some places, the conditions were really pathetic and I was even not allowed to drink cold water from refrigerator or use bathroom. Despite all problems, I am aware of the fact that my monthly earning is extremely important for the survival of my family.”

It is quite clear that child domestic workers are not in position to bargain or impose any conditions of employment. Since availability of children, who are willing to work as domestic workers, is very high; therefore, no employer wanted to make any contract or regularize the employment of child domestic workers. The lack of protection mechanism has forced the child domestic workers to maintain silence and accept worst working conditions.

Wahab used to work as domestic workers for more than four years. The little boy is now selling small items in a local market. Wahab said, “I worked twelve to sixteen hours in a day and did most of domestic work including washing dishes, small clothes, iron the clothes, polish the shoes, dusting and maintaining the small garden and more than hundred plants. Despite all these work, the family members humiliated me without any reason and their son often slapped me.” Wahab added that one day while washing the dishes he had mistakenly broken an expensive dish. The head of household and his son beaten him so much and ordered to leave the house immediately despite the fact that it was Eleven O’ Clock at night.

In a recently published news item, “the Child Rights Movement Punjab (CRMP) urged the provincial government to include the child domestic labor in the list of banned occupations under the Employment of Children (Amendment) Act 2011. According to the CRMP, up to 12 million children are engaged in various forms of child labor across the country. Child domestic workers work behind closed doors at people’s homes and there has been an increase in the incidents of violence against them. It is the lack of visibility that greatly increases the potential for exploitation and abuse of these children. Child domestic labor is the contemporary form of slavery and a violation of the UNCRC, ILO conventions 138, 182 and 189, ratified by the government of Pakistan.”

Over the period of time much effort has been done by the government, international agencies and national organization to eradicate the child labor; however, despite all sincere and commendable efforts working children are a dismal reality in this part of the globe.

A complete eradication of child labor certainly requires a compliance mechanism of national and international legislation pertaining to child labor. Additionally, change in deep-rooted social and cultural norms with regard to the status of the child is necessary. Furthermore, allocation of appropriate resources on poverty eradication, education and health are direly required.


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