EDITORIAL: Tens of thousands of children in this country, mostly girls, work as domestic help in private homes. Many suffer appalling cruelty at the hands of their employers.
In the latest such case a 13-year-old girl, Rizwana, working at the residence of a civil judge in Islamabad was so severely beaten and tortured that she has landed in hospital with injuries to her head, marks of physical torture on her face and all over her body, and both arms fractured.
Her parents had taken her for treatment in their hometown hospital in Sargodha, but considering her condition doctors there referred her to the General Hospital in Lahore where she is undergoing treatment in the surgical emergency ward.
The police in Islamabad have been reluctant to register a case against the civil judge, who has made a usual but contradictory statement admitting that his wife had questioned her about the alleged theft of gold ornaments and yet claimed that the girl had herself injured her head. Even if the theft accusation was valid, the judicial officer should have known better and reported her to the police.
A while ago in a somewhat similar case, highlighted by the media, an additional sessions judge and his wife were arrested for brutally torturing a housemaid, and the judge not only lost his job but also was handed three-year imprisonment.
Yet reports of minor housemaids subjected to extreme violence have been surfacing every now and then. A couple of years back in a horrendous case of cruelty an eight-year-old girl-child in Rawalpindi was beaten to death for letting a caged parrot escape.
Rizwana also might have died had her parents not come to take her to hospital. In 2019, the Punjab Assembly passed a legislation barring child labour in homes and also making labour laws applicable to all domestic workers. There is no system in place, however, to ensure implementation. In the present instance, the girl served for Rs 10,000 a month, less than half of the official minimum wage.
In any event, the law is not enough to stop use and abuse of child labour; its root causes need to be addressed. One is pervasive poverty. Parents send their children to toil in all sorts of exploitative conditions to supplement family incomes.
According to an ILO study, one in every four households in Pakistan employed a child in domestic work, predominantly girls, 10 to 14 years of age. This is because poverty reduction measures, economic as well as humanitarian, have never figured in our successive governments’ policy planning.
They have also ignored their responsibility to provide free and compulsory education to all children promised by the Constitution. Also driving manipulative attitudes is an unhealthy social value system.
Most people in advantaged sections of society treat the poor as lesser beings, often referring to them as ‘these people’ as if they are not people like themselves. Such vain and oppressive attitudes, an anathema to civilized sensibilities, should have no place in this society.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023