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WISE Press conference to decry heinous crimes against child domestic workers

On 4 August 2023, WISE organized a joint press in collaboration with Women Workers Union- Punjab, Search for Justice and GODH at Lahore Press Club to condemn the barbaric incident of severe torture against an 13-year old child domestic workers, Rizwana by her employers in Islamabad.

Addressing the media speakers said the child domestic work is rampant across the country as every fourth household in Pakistan engages a domestic worker. Child domestic workers are silently abused, tortured and murdered inside the boundary walls. Children below legal age continue to be employed, and the number of cases where domestic workers are facing physical abuse and exploitation is increasing. The situation for child domestic workers is dire in every possible way. While the concerned authorities are found reluctant to take action. It will not improve without criminalizing the practice of employing them, they added.

Speaking on the occasion, Executive Director WISE, Bushra Khaliq said the recent brutal torture of 14-year old child domestic worker, Rizwana, was not the first to go through such cruelty. We can recall several cases happened in the past. For instance, in 2017, the 10-year-old Tayyaba was tortured while employed as a domestic helper by an additional sessions judge. In 2020 the 8-year Zohra was beaten to death by her employers. In 2019, 16-year-old Uzma was tortured and murdered by her employer.

Quoting the figures from a research by WISE during the period of (January 2019 to February 2021) she said 74 cases of violence against child domestic workers were reported in Punjab. During this period (25 months), 15 child domestic workers were tortured to death while 59 were subjected to severe violence causing injuries. However, it can be assumed that in the wake of invisible nature of the work and insufficient media coverage these numbers may be much more. Astonishingly in all the 74 cases, the victims were girls as young as 7-16 years. That highlights the dangers girl child workers constantly face. Their poverty-stricken parents rarely go to the police against their abusive employers, she added.

She demanded of the govt. to raise awareness among communities of the fact that child labor in domestic work is illegal. Reliable data on the magnitude of child labor – stratified by location, gender and socio-demographic features – needs to be generated, including data on child labor in domestic work. In the wake of domestic workers serious level of vulnerability, particularly those of women and children, solid efforts are required for the ratification of C-189 and effective implementation of the DWs law to help improve the working conditions and lives of domestic workers, she added.

Nazir Ahmad Gazi, Executive Director GODH, said such ruthless incidents have exposed not only the mindset of the rich employers that is all too common in elite Pakistani society but apathy of govt to protect children. Article 3 of the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019 says “No child under the age of 15 years shall be allowed to work in a household in any capacity. But it is not surprising that labor laws and child protection laws are being flouted with such impunity as most domestic workers are unregistered and lack any official contracts. Pertinent to mention, per the figures of Commissioner Social Security there are about 675,000 domestic workers in Punjab with majority of them as poor women and children, he shared.

Sana Asghar from Search for Justice said this is absolute failure of the state to leave children at the mercy of the callous employers who least bother to respect the law, exploit child domestic labor and treat them as slaves. One wonders why so many children of school-going age are doing as domestic help. Where is their constitutional right to an education? It is pertinent to mention that International Labor Organization (ILO) has defined domestic work as the form of modern slavery and elimination of modern slavery by 2030 is part of Goal 8 (Target 8.7) of the Sustainable Development Goals of which Pakistan is a party, she added.

Shahnaz Ajmal, President Women Domestic Workers Union-Punjab emphasized the govt. to take strict action against the perpetrators of torture against Rizwana and make all out efforts to save the life of the poor victim.  Ensure free and compulsory education up to matric to all the children under 16 years of age in compliance with article 25-A of Constitution. She called for large-scale awareness campaign is need of the hour to sensitize all relevant stakeholders regarding the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019 and its implementing mechanisms specifically employers, judiciary, placement agencies, media, academia, police and others. Equally important is to constitute the child rights commission along with Watch Committee comprising representatives of police, judiciary, CPWB, Labor and education departments and NGOs to check the cases of violence against child workers, she added.