Young Fatima’s resilience

Published: January 15, 2013
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Robbed of their childhood, they have nothing but despair and misery to look forward to. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

She is very young. Her laughter flows like music through the windows of my room, as she plays with other children in the backyard of the house, where she works as a maid.

When the ball lands at our place, she humbly requests to throw it back so they can continue with their game.

Her voice so endearing; the sound of her giggles warms my heart, but her happiness is usually short lived.

In the morning, when other children are busy getting ready for school, she washes dishes, even though her chin reaches just a few inches above the washbasin. She never complains. Then, she helps prepare breakfast for her playmates, and sees them off to school, towards a better future of which she can only hope for.

Then, while other children her age are busy sifting through their fancy bags to find their class-relevant textbooks, she, with her small hands wrapped around the broom, sets on a tiresome task of cleaning the entire house.

At noon, upon sounding the break’s bell, as other children gleefully rush out to play and feast on the goodies their loving mothers have fondly packed for them, she sits in the backyard with a solemn face tired from a long day’s work.

At times, I hear her hum a song usually, Humsafar, but mostly she just sits there in complete silence.

As the sun sets on the day, it also sets on her respite. In the evening, her mistress calls for her. She is known for her temper. Her angry voice rings through the neighbourhood and sends a shiver down my spine of what calamity is going to befall on that little girl.

Obediently, she goes.

Soon thereafter, sounds of angry reprimands begin to flow in. Sometimes, these verbal atrocities take the form of physical abuse. Her laughter is replaced by pleas as she begs her mistress to have some mercy and hear her out.

Her requests go unheeded as that woman takes  her entire day’s frustration out on her. Feeling upset, I just close my window because I am weak and oblivious.

I do not know what happens next.

I do not know if she cries herself to sleep or keeps her emotions in check as she has dinner to prepare and other duties to fulfil.

This is too much for her young shoulders, but I somehow always find her up and working the next day.

She manages.

I, however, know one thing for sure that Fatima is a very brave girl – stronger than many of us. There are times, when she takes a stand.

Once her mistress called upon her saying,

Fatima, mar gayee hu?”

(Fatima, are you dead?)

To which, she briefly replied,

Nahi.

(No.)

This was a brave response, considering her mistress’s volatile temper.

This is an account of how a little girl in my neighbourhood spends most of her days.

Fatima is six, and she is not alone in living an entire life of hard work. In Pakistan, where child labour has become an epidemic, we come across many little ones roaming the streets selling goods, fixing tires or waiting tables.

A boy sells homemade biscuits to labourers at a chicken market in Quetta December 20, 2011. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed/Filez/Files

Even the educated ones do not shy away from employing young children when they should instead be promoting education. For these children, each day presents a challenge and they are constantly trying to ensure their survival. They are verbally and physically abused. While our privileged children are usually found to be beaming with joyous anticipation, these unfortunate ones become hardened with each passing day.

Robbed of their childhood, they have nothing but despair and misery to look forward to.

Child labour India

As far as laws against child labour are concerned, they are in place but not implemented. So, the question that arises is what can we do?

We can certainly do our bit. Firstly, we should say “no” to employing children in our houses and businesses. Those of us who can afford it must take the responsibility of educating one child. We could provide them with books, uniforms or tutor them ourselves.

We could also inform the parents of these children regarding the opportunities that education brings.

They might not listen to us first but with persistence, a lot can be accomplished. Ultimately, this issue deserves our attention and effort as it is about the future of our nation.

PHOTOS: REUTERS/AFP

Read more by Sahrish here.

Sahrish.Ahmad

Sahrish Ahmad

A trainee clinical psychologist, who loves to read and write.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.