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.

  • Black Widow

    Beautiful post. I always read your posts, they are so deep and meaningful. You seem a nice kind hearted soul. It truly reflects in the way you write.

    May Allah give you strength, power, happiness and make you influential enough that people actually look up to you. Best of both worlds (much better for the next) for you dear.Recommend

  • Aijaz Haider

    Fatima should be sent to school by somebody who can bear the expenses – unfortunately I am not in a position to do so at present.Recommend

  • Nitish

    @Aijaz Haider:Then why did you give suggestion?Recommend

  • Aijaz Haider

    @Nitish: Sorry, I made a mistake.Recommend

  • Nitish

    @Aijaz Haider: Well accepted…Recommend

  • Nobody

    Excellent topic to address. So important.
    As a frequent visitor to Pakistan, I’ve always seen the trend of child labor and haven’t really known how to handle it. I hesitate to ask the maid to iron my clothes or do anything of mine especially when I’m fully capable of doing so myself. I realize it’s not my family’s fault alone and they’re providing a kid with an income, presumably an income much needed in her family, but I can’t help but feel awkward around her and feel earning money shouldn’t be her duty at her age. BUT, my heart warms at the fact that my naani had taken it as her duty to put one boy (who also came every morning for a few hours to contribute to house work) and one girl through school, start to finish, and although she recently passed, the rest of the family has taken on this task and won’t let it go unfinished. On my last trip, I was so thrilled to see the results and saw how much the boy and girl had changed, how they’d grown into well groomed individuals with fluent almost flawless english and more importantly, a thirst for more knowledge closer to achieving their own dreams. I’m looking forward to seeing them the next time I go.
    I understand it isn’t an easy task or one that everyone can do, but if everyone who CAN, would, then imagine how many little boys and girls could end up with the ability to accomplish what they want simply by being equipped with an education.
    Anyways I’m rambling. As you can see I enjoyed your blog, painful as it was. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Solution is : Do bache hee achae ( stop at two kids ).Recommend

  • Doolittle

    Does “Nitish” translate into Somebody ? Anyone …… I hope I don’t get reprimanded Recommend

  • Close_enough

    Bring Tears :(::::::Recommend

  • Insaan

    Fatima is six…..and works as a maid.

    If you want to employ kids to work to help them, please make sure you treat them like your own kids and educate them.Recommend

  • gp65

    Blog is very well written and touching.
    Sadly the issue of child labour in poor countries like ours is very real. Apart from encouraging and facilitating the people to have fewer kids, the one thing in India that seems to have helped is mid day meals at schools. When parents are assured that the kid will get bharpet khaana at school and will not go hungry, they are willing to forego the child’s income and send them to school.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmswP1HmJVM
    Mid day meal programs have increased attendance of kids, reduced drop out rate and most heartening increased enrollment of girls. Some additional important means to ensure that kids go to school rather than end up as domestic labour
    – free uniforms
    – schools within walking distance
    – female teachers helps retention of female students particularly above a certain age
    – schemes such as those in state of Bihar where every girl entering class 8 is given a bicycle.
    Due to these measures out of school kids in India has been reduced from 21 million to 2.3 million in 10 years.

    A side benefit is when girls stay longer in school, their marriage and child bearing is delayed and such girls also tend to have fewer kids which is the root of the problem to begin with.Recommend

  • Insaan

    Here is story of an Indian village add a man who started a project to change lives. Some KBC shows try to bring up issues that need be dealt with in our society. You can watch some shows on youtube. Only last week a woman with 12 grade education one Rs 5 crores.

    Recommend

  • Dhanus

    @Nitish:
    Pakistanis have suggestions for every thing and everyone. Recommend

  • peace

    touching story and perhaps numerous stories we have around us of such nature.
    in my opinion the solution to the problem is not to stop employing the little souls but to bring a change in our attitudes and be sympathetic towards them.
    in an underdeveloped country like ours where it has become so difficult even for the educated lot to make ends meet we can not stop these poor kids to be employed or to make their parents make them go school and stop working. what options of schools do the poor have to send their kids to? not the good private schools for sure so they are left with only the government schools which are sub standard schools. what kind of jobs are available for people who pass out from government schools. even if they opt and get admission to government colleges their foundation is not strong and they are neglected by the corporate sector when applies for jobs. today the min criteria for any job is professional degrees except for basic clerical jobs. but the reality is that a clerk in most offices earns around 8,000 to 12,000 on average per month whereas an illiterate person employed as full time driver earns around 9,000 up to 15,000 with perks such as free accommodation,meals, and time to time goodies and occasional presents from his employer which keeps the driver in a better social position than the literate clerk. same is the case with cooks, maids, chaukidars etc.
    A girl who works at my place is 15 years old, works in 3 different houses in the neighborhood and makes about 11.5 k per month. this is excluding the meals and the gifts she receives from all employers from time to time. not only that but she also gets her fair share of entertainment by watching some tv, chatting with women folk in the houses etc.
    our country is not in a position where we have any reason to make these kids stay at their homes and go to schools because they are unable to fed themselves this way and we are unable and most of us also not bothered about taking up their responsibilities. then why preach them to stop working if we are not moving forward to feed them if they stop working.

    the need is to bring change in our attitudes. employ the children at your homes as it provides them with income but be considerate and caring towards them. take work from them according to their age and health. provide them with the same meal as you eat, give them some time to respite, some time to play,some time to watch tv etc. also you can send them to nearby tutions or tutor them yourself at home. buy them toys,books etc from time to time. this is the way such kids can also earn and can also enjoy their age. Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Insaan: In my post above, an important link got deleted. If you are interested to see how one person changed lives of many poor people. search
    “Manoj Bajpai KBC 2013” on youtube and watch the show. It may inspire you to help some one.Recommend

  • burjor

    Beautiful child, beautiful photograph. compliments to the writer and the photographer.Recommend

  • Sahrish

    Thank you everyone!

    @Burjor: This is a photo from the ET files.

    @Aijaz Haider: I appreciate your comment. Even if you can not bear the expenses of educating a child, we could always spend some of our time on them. We could tutor them. That would go a long way to uplift them.

    @gp65: That is good to know. Indian government has taken such a great initiative. In Pakistan, Shahzad Roy (a famous singer) started a campaign on similar lines. He would pay children for going to school. Our government needs to take similar steps so that the impact is widespread.

    @Peace: I appreciate your stance. However, I believe the rightful place of a child is in schools. We have to start somewhere. Lets not forget that these children have to face even more horrible home environment at times. Therefore, if the girl that works at your place spends time chit- chatting and having fun, I don’t blame her.
    We can always provide them with shelter at our homes. We could ask the adults, who work at our houses to bring their children along on weekends, and then, we could spend time tutoring them. There is so much we can do. We just don’t recognize our potential as human.

    @Nobody: Your grandmother was a great person. May Allah bless her soul. AmeenRecommend

  • Sahrish

    Do you guys have any child protection agency where we can report child abuse incidents?Recommend

  • Tausif Khan Shinwari

    A heart touching and very well written article. Excellent, Keep it up!!!Recommend

  • LalaLand

    @Sahrish:
    SPARC is one such organisation.Recommend