Another minor maid, burnt by her employer, succumbed to her injuries in a Multan hospital on March 25. She was burnt for resisting an assault at Chak No. 189/9-L, Harappa, and she died at Nishtar Hospital Multan after fighting for her life for 24 hours. Sawera (14) was doused in kerosene and then set on fire.
The daughter of a farm worker, with six other female siblings, Sawera had been left at the residence of Pir Riaz Shah by her father in 2012, when she was just four years old. In the recent past, she had complained to her family several times that Pir’s son Dilbar Shah, a married man with children, had been harassing her whenever he got a chance. On March 23, the family got the news from Pir Riaz’s employees that their daughter had been burnt by Dilbar Shah.
Not very different story, though heart-wrenching and moving, as ever. According to ‘Maid in Pakistan’, an NGO, one out of 20 maids in the country is tortured, harassed and raped in silence. Three rights-based groups – the Hari Welfare Association, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, and the Institute for Social Justice – jointly issued a report last year, revealing that more than 140 cases of abuse, torture, rape and murder of child domestic workers (CDWs) were reported in the media during the recent past. The actual number could be higher than it, as most cases of child abuse are not reported in the media.
All such incidents stress the need for enacting stricter laws for the protection of young people working as domestic help. State of Pakistan’s Children, a report compiled by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), revealed that eight cases of severe torture against domestic child servants led to their deaths during the previous year.
A spokesperson for SPARC told the media persons: “It is being observed that every fourth house in Islamabad employs a child as a domestic servant. These children are brought from poor parts of the country, like Rahimyar Khan and Multan, to serve as domestic servants.” She demanded that both federal and provincial governments take effective measures to check growing violence against child domestic workers and respond to the situation by adding Child Domestic Labour to the list of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act 1991.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which sets out the political, cultural, social, health and economic rights of a child (under the age of 18), has been ratified by 194 countries. Pakistan is one of the first 20 countries to have signed and ratified the Convention. Article 32 of the Convention says, “The right of the child to be protected from ‘economic exploitation’ and from performing any work that is likely to be ‘hazardous’ or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health physical, mental or otherwise.”
Iftikhar Mubarik, the programme manager of Violence Against Child Labourers run by SPARC, identified domestic employment as the worst form of child labour. Mubarik says that domestic labour deprives young children of several rights that have been identified by the state. It has ‘no specified working hours’ which often victimises young children to a routine devoid of education, rest and leisure.
Section 7 of the Employment of Children Act 1991 states, “The period of work on each day shall be so fixed that no period shall exceed three hours and that no child shall work for more than three hours before they have an interval of at least one hour for rest.” The Act which defines a child as a person below the age of 14, while prohibiting certain occupations for a child fails to address child labour in the domestic sector.
According to an ILO estimate, in Pakistan every fourth house employs a child for work. Mubarik said that in the previous year, ten cases of child domestic servants being tortured and killed were reported.
According to SPARC investigations, child domestic labour is rife in all provinces of Pakistan; most cases of violence towards child domestic labour occur in Punjab, reveal the research studies. The Child Rights Movement (CRM) launched their Punjab chapter during the last year. The body comprises almost 20 NGOs, hailing from various districts of Punjab. The CRM has demanded that the federal government establish the National Commission for the Rights of the Child in compliance with the recommendations given by the UN Committee on Child Rights in its concluding observations to Pakistan. A delegation of the organisation recently demanded inclusion of domestic labour in the schedule of the 34 banned Hazardous Occupations as defined by the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991.