Pakistan needs strong legislation to root out child labour

As Pakistan is a child-majority country, the exploitation of children is violation of the majority rights

After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution the subject “Labour” was devolved to the provinces. The Sindh Assembly on January 25 repealing The Employment of Children Act 1991 unanimously passed the Sindh Prevention of Child Labour Act 2017 against employment of children below the age of 14. In the same way, the assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in June 2016 and Punjab in July 2016 repealing the Act 1991 had passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2015 and the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 respectively. Unfortunately, the laws enacted by all these provinces did not define child domestic work as a hazardous occupation for children. This is sheer injustice with the children. But question arises that although plethora of incidents of tortures, harassments, beatings and deaths of child domestic workers have been reported repeatedly, yet the governments have failed to enact law to eradicate the menace of child domestic labour from the country.  

The fact is that because of the absence of proper law, the detrimental practice of child domestic labour continues to abuse children, especially girls, with no fear of punishment. Recently, an incident of child domestic labour and slavery occurred in Islamabad, which sparked a heated debate on the current situation of child domestic labour and protection in the country. However, Tayyaba is not the first and only case of torture; a large number of child domestic female workers have been tortured, enslaved, sexually assaulted and exploited by their employers. According to Amnesty International, 35 per cent of children in domestic employment in Pakistan are subjected to violence.

Shockingly, a report reveals that within one month of this year, 26 cases of violence against children were reported from all over the country.  The victims were 19 girls and seven boys of age group 5-15. Of the total 26 victims, 13 were raped, three were killed and five were found dead in their employers’ homes or elsewhere. Violence against children continues to flourish, because it is not punished, with many believing it to be routine and unavoidable due to the absence of law related to it. Since 2010, around 30 child domestic workers have been tortured to death in the country. As Pakistan is a child-majority country, the exploitation of children is violation of the majority rights.   

Initially most of the young girls go home to home with their mothers and work with them. Later on, people hire them and they start working independently before they turned 14. Most of these underage domestic female workers are either sexually abused or lured into sex for the owner, or his son, in exchange for meager monthly salary and job security. Many of them experience all these ignominious, reprehensible and immoral things silently, simply to keep themselves alive in this world, because they do not have any other source of income. The male members of the most working females do not work anywhere, are dependent upon them and beat them to get money for drugs. Women are the only breadwinners of these families.

Amidst other factors, the main factor that forces parents to send their children under the age of 14 to work is their appalling socio-economic conditions. Most of the parents are unaware that child domestic labour is a serious crime and both parents and employers are equal partners in the crime and responsible for the violence committed against the children.

I do not understand what kind of ‘judiciousness’ is that due to poverty one sends minor girls to get abused and raped for some amount of money. The parents should learn that the innocent domestic labourers are not only treated as chattels and slaves but also they are believed to be fair game and cheap source for sadists and sex mongers to satisfy their urge. Moreover, the child domestic labour is the worst form of child labour, because children have to perform hazardous household chores including cooking food, chopping vegetables with sharp knives, boiling water, carrying heavy water pots, and ironing clothes, etc which put them at a serious danger and can be fatal.

Despite the large number of promises to international organizations regarding protection of child labourers, nothing concrete has yet been done to protect these children in Pakistan. Viewing the horrific state of affairs, lawmakers have to shoulder the responsibility to come up with adequate and comprehensive legislation to prevent violence against these children, ending the menace of child domestic labour and modern slavery for their good. Furthermore, a comprehensive planning is required to counter the factors that force parents to involve their children in domestic labour at their tender age. As the vicious poverty is directly related to the ever growing child domestic labour, financial measures are to be taken to reduce the burden of poverty from the families who are forced to make their children domestic labourers in early age.

Shaikh Abdul Rasheed is a social activist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter