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Cruelty to children working as domestic help is rampant in this society, getting attention in a few cases when highlighted by the media, like the 13-year-old girl Rizwana who landed in a hospital last month with multiple injuries, torture marks all over her body and bone fractures in both arms.

Now has come to light the case of a 10-year-old housemaid Fatima Fariro employed at the haveli of an influential pir in Rajanpur area of Khairpur district in Sindh.

The poor girl was found dead under mysterious circumstances and quietly buried by her family too afraid to lodge a complaint with the local police as the Station House Officer (SHO) sided with the suspects. Luckily, however, video clips of the girl with torture marks went viral on social media leading to protests by rights groups.

The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Sukkur, Javed Soonharo Jiskani, immediately took notice of the case and the parents, previously reluctant to speak out due to fear, told a senior police officer that their daughter had a fractured arm, bruises and some other marks — of torture — on her body, especially around the neck and belly.

Sadly, it is common in our predominantly feudal culture for the police to protect influential suspects. Honourably for them, however, in the present instance the DIG and SSP did their duty. The SHO has been suspended for his failure to properly investigate Fatima’s cause of death, and the main accused arrested following registration of a murder FIR. The police have also applied for exhuming the body for post-mortem.

Many children, vast majority of them girls, working as domestic help suffer in silence extreme forms of brutality at the hands of their employers. Not long ago, an eight-year-old housemaid was beaten to death for letting out a caged parrot. This has gone on despite there being a law in place that bars child labour in homes.

It remains inapplicable not only because of the relevant authorities’ lack of interest in implementation, but also because families caught in the poverty trap are compelled to send their children to work to supplement their incomes for subsistence level existence. It is a vicious cycle perpetuating poverty for generations. Those born in poverty die bequeathing the same to their children, with no prospects of improving their situation and lead a better, fulfilling life.

According to the World Bank, 22.8 million children between the ages of five and 16 do not attend primary or secondary schools in Pakistan. Needless to say, there are a number of reasons for why children find themselves in child labour and are not able to fully attend schools. This blatant violation of their basic human rights also comes at a price to overall socio-economic progress.

The International Labour Organisation points out, based on its recent studies, that the elimination of child labour in transition and developing countries could generate economic benefits much greater than the costs, mostly associated with investment in better schooling and social services. Our policymakers need to pay heed to this important detail.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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