LAHORE: Child workers in Pakistan, like 11 year old girls Rubina and Rukshana, have been raped, beaten, abducted and even murdered, and child rights activists are advocating for robust laws to punish the perpetrators.
Rubina, hired as a maid by a family in Jaranwala, went missing in June 2016. Local police ASI Rai Nasir abducted her and sent her to live with a local lady lawyer Sehrish. Nasir became a regular visitor to Sehrish’s house where he would rape Rubina.
Rubina’s family found her five weeks later in a miserable condition, her brother Muhammad Ashraf said.
She told her family she had been abducted by Nasir. When they confronted him he denied raping Rubina. After four months an FIR was launched but no-one was arrested.
Rubina’s case is just one of hundreds each year in which young maids are physically tortured or abused but culprits go unprosecuted, as there are no laws against abusing child workers.
Senior Regional Coordinator of Sahil, Ansar Sajjad Bhatti, said that in 2016, 41 cases of domestic violence against child laborers were reported.
“Of those 41, 13 kids were abducted, 21 were raped including 11 who were gang raped, four were raped and murdered and two were sodomized,” Bhatti told Truth Tracker/News Lens Pakistan.
A detailed report on violation of child labor laws published in 2016 by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found Over six million children in Pakistan are forced to work long hours for poor salaries, according to a 2016 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Child laborers are subject to sexual, physical and verbal abuse, according to child rights activists.
According to the latest Labour Force Survey, 6.4 million children are labouring. The survey accounted for children 10-14 years of age, out of school and working in agriculture, fisheries, transport, carpet weaving, food catering, motor garages, light industry and domestic services sectors.
Children working in domestic services are mostly subjected to exploitation, deprived of labour rights and run a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse by employers.
Lawyers, NGO’s and government organizations fighting for domestic underage workers believe that the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Bill 2015 is the first to bring domestic workers under the jurisdiction of labour laws.
If it is passed by the National Assembly it will be the first kind of legislation in Pakistan, activists from Sahil and SPAARC say.
An annual report on State of Pakistan’s Children by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) states that there are 264,000 underage domestic workers in cruel and unsafe working environments, often left to the mercy of employers who routinely subject them to physical and psychological abuse, exploitation, and violence.
“Unfortunately, there is no legislation which merely focuses on domestic workers. Of the labour code, only two pieces of legislation mention domestic workers,” Muhammad Mumtaz, legal advisor in the Child Protection Bureau of Punjab province, told News Lens Pakistan.
“Lack of proper legislation is the reason many underage housemaids bear long working hours, poor salaries, taunts and beatings, sexual abuse, even murder, thus making their lives a living hell,” Mumtaz said.
Farshad Iqbal, Research and Communication Officer of SPARC shared his 12 point position paper which emphasizes the immediate enactment of the Domestic Workers bill, which has been pending for three years.
“Currently there are no comprehensive laws protecting the rights of domestic workers exists,” Iqbal told Truth Tracker.
”It is high time that robust child protection units or bureaus should be must be established to provide adequate care to victims of violence, abuse and exploitation.”
Rukshana, was employed in a family home in Lahore in 2016. Irfan and his wife Tabinda, her employers, used to four hours straight, her mother Shameem said.
“An F.I.R was launched and Irfan was arrested but her employer was given bail,” Shameem told Truth Tracker.
The Punjab provincial government set up the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau to provide care, rehabilitation, education and training to destitute and neglected children.
Coordinator Waseem Abbas said there had been a total 65 cases in two years. Of those, only 27 FIR’s have been registered so far.
He also said, “There has been no prosecution so far in any case due to non-existence of robust domestic workers laws,” Abbas told Truth Tracker.
“Pakistan must ratify ILO C 189 to improve the status of workers and the State must initiate registration of domestic workers and their inclusion as a category in the labour force survey.”
ILO C 189 is a Convention on Domestic Workers, setting labour standards for domestic workers.
Iftikhar Mubarak, a child rights activist who has worked with the (SPARC), says that “lack of laws indicates the lack of a system for data collection and entry.”
Lawyer Sahil Ahmed, who has been working child labour exploitation cases, stated that “there are some laws which exist but do not apply directly to domestic workers.”
He referred to the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004.
“The minimum punishment for abuse on domestic workers should be 10 years and it should be a non-bailable offence,” Ahmed said.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) 2014 annual report, Pakistan has the third largest children’s workforce in the world.
“There is a dire need for policy advocacy,” Mumtaz said. “Not only is legislation required, a sea change in attitudes is also needed if there is to be an improvement in the current situation of domestic workers who must be apprised of their rights.”