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KARACHI: Human rights, child rights, civil society activists, legal experts, independent human rights institutions, police and government representatives on Thursday underlined the need to finalise the law to criminalise child domestic labour to curb this slavery-like practice in the country, which is exploitative in nature.

They expressed serious concern about the increasing incidents of torture and even deaths of child domestic workers in different parts of the country. The recent cases of torture on child domestic workers were Fatima Phuriro and Rizwana which were highlighted due to media, but there may be thousands of such cases which are not reported.

The speakers were speaking at a consultation on The Prohibition of Child Domestic Labour Bill 2024, jointly organized by the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) and UNICEF at a local hotel. The consultation was aimed at discussing the proposed Prohibition of Child Domestic Labour Bill 2024 with the key stakeholders and getting their recommendations to be incorporated into the law.

The main speakers included a Member of the National Commission for Human Rights NCHR (Sindh) Ms Anis Haroon, a Member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) Zulfiqar Shah, members of the NCRC Khalid Naeem and Pirbhu Lal Satyani, Imdad Channa from Sindh Child Protection Authority, a Chief Field Officer of UNICEF Prem Chand and others.

Poverty was identified as the main reason for child domestic labour in Pakistani society. Both parents and employers who are mostly rich families were deemed responsible for this menace, they pointed out. The meeting stressed the need to provide incentives to parents and raise awareness about the importance of education.

The case of child domestic worker Fatima Phuriro who was killed in Khairpur Mirs district was discussed as a test case, with the consensus being that it needs to be brought to a conclusion. The consultation also addressed the issue of girls being kept at home, emphasizing the need for parental awareness and the role of NGOs in this regard.

Ms Anis Haroon pointed out that over 6 million school-going children are out of school in Sindh, which is an alarming situation.

Miqdad Mehdi, an advocate of the high court, pointed out that initially there was a denial of child domestic labour at the government and social levels. However, he said over time, it was realized that it is a serious issue in our society. He referred to an expert’s statement that child labour is a modern form of slavery.

Zulfiqar Shah, a Member of SHRC pointed out that the economy and political system are the main cause of such practice in Pakistan.

Khalid Naeem, a member of the NCRC revealed that 45 per cent of the population falls under child labour, and less enrolment in Pakistan is a major cause of

NCRC Member Pirbhu Lal Satyani said the proposed Prohibition of Child Domestic Labour Bill 2024 seeks to instigate transformative change by reinforcing legal measures against those involved in engaging children in domestic labour. By classifying Child Domestic Labour (CDL) as a non-compoundable, non-bailable, and cognizable offence, the NCRC underscores its commitment to prioritizing the rights and well-being of children.

He explained this proposed bill intends to amend the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, criminalizing CDL and eliminating this widespread menace. Titled the Criminal Amendment (Prohibition of Child Domestic Labour) Bill, 2024, it signifies a dedicated effort to protect the rights and dignity of children across Pakistan.

The bill proposes the addition of a new section, 374-A, to the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, specifically addressing child domestic labour. This section criminalizes the employment, recruitment, harbouring, transportation, or provision of a child below the age of eighteen years for domestic labour, with penalties including imprisonment ranging from two to seven years and a fine not less than five hundred thousand rupees. The offences related to child domestic labour are categorized as non-bailable, non-compoundable, and cognizable.

Embarking on the path toward widespread societal change, the NCRC has outlined a series of consultations at the provincial level to refine and strengthen the proposed bill. The inaugural consultations took place in Peshawar on December 14th another in Lahore on 20th December 2023, and another in Quetta signifying stride in fostering collaboration with key stakeholders, including government representatives, civil society organizations, and experts in child rights.

Recognizing the importance of collective input and expertise in shaping effective legislation, the consultation in Quetta addressed concerns and gathered insights to enhance the proposed bill.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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