In Lahore: Does child labour and torture go hand in hand?

Published: January 6, 2014
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The government remains in denial, despite the brutal death of 22 children due to child labour abuse. PHOTO: Reuters

Iram’s cruel torture and consequent death is not the first case of a child domestic worker being tormented in Pakistan. Approximately, 45 cases of violence against child domestic workers were reported by the media since Shazia Masih’s tragic and cruel murder in January 2010 in Lahore. Iram is the 22nd child domestic worker tortured to death and majority of these cases have been reported in Punjab — and keep in mind, these are only the reported cases. 

If anyone has any doubts, please search for Shazia Masih (Lahore)Jameel (Multan)Yasmin (Okara)Shehzad (Gujranwala)Zafar (Karachi) and Tehmina (Islamabad) to name a few. All of these cases show that child domestic labour is one of the most formidable forms of child labour in Pakistan. However, the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan have failed to respond to the situation.

The problem with Pakistani society is that we forget about such cases after some time.

The initial horror and anger dies down and the case then is buried deep in our subconscious. We don’t have any follow up mechanism and thus such cases only remain in the limelight while the media pursues them. Once the media loses interest, everyone forgets about it until a new case is reported again a few months later.

The government, however, remains in denial, despite the brutal death of 22 children, lifelong injuries of many others and a number of children missing. There are organised gangs involved in the internal trafficking of children and are providing children as domestic servants in urban cities.

To avoid such cases the federal government should put an immediate ban on the employment of minors and child domestic labour should be added in the schedule of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991 through an official notification.

The only argument from those who oppose this is that it wouldn’t be possible for labour inspectors to conduct inspections of houses individually. In my opinion, even with the labour department carrying out inspections, they won’t be able to achieve much or have a positive impact when it comes to labour rights in Pakistan.

I agree that policing is not a solution, however, the ban will make bureaucrats, parliamentarians and the common people realise that such employment is against the law and if it won’t stop them completely, it will in the least give them the fear of legal repercussions. It will also give young children a valid law to rely on whence refusing to do domestic work.

Authorities will be able to take action against employers and parents who have subjected their young children to such forms of labour and extensive awareness raising campaigns by civil society groups would help reduce the number of incidents by alerting communities about the consequences of employing innocent children and risking their lives.

According to Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, which safeguards the right to free and compulsory education for all children up to 16 years, there should be no excuses for the existence of child labour in this country. These kids should not even have the time to gain such employment. The problem is not with the existing law; it is with the lack of implementation and a lack of resolve to initiate such progressive change in the country for fear of inconvenience and short-term poverty.

Young children, brainwashed by needy parents, employers and other mafias, have no choice but to resort to the menace of child labour, but just like one feels scared of being caught stealing, the implementation of these laws will help activate the same fear in this case; in both parties, those pushing the kids and within the children themselves.

My sincere request to Mr Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, is to take proactive action against this kind of inhumane activity and immediately ban child labour as a part of the ECA. The reason I am directing my request towards Mr Sharif is because, as mentioned above, most of the cases of violence against children doing domestic labour have occurred in Punjab. Many cases have probably gone unreported and thus, unnoticed. That, however, is not to say that other provinces are exempt from this and can take this issue lightly; it is most likely that the cases that have in fact taken place elsewhere have not been reported or have been swept under the rug merely as ‘accidental deaths’.

On a side note, I would like to add that it is not just the government’s duty to ensure the safety of the children of Pakistan, it is in fact the duty of each and every employer, parent and citizen to make sure the future of this country doesn’t just have the right to live, but the right to ‘survive’ too!

Arshad Mahmood

Arshad Mahmood

He has a Masters degree in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and is currently working for the promotion and protection of child rights in Pakistan. He tweets @amahmood72 (twitter.com/amahmood72).

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

  • wasim

    Excellent article, giving an over view of the current situation. Thank you Arshad for highlighting and voicing such an important social issue in existing unfortunately in 21st century in our country.

    Respected Mr Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, and Mr Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, please do something to save our children our future.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Its not enough to have laws. we also need to implement them. The government should have local bodies go door to door for sudden checks . Also educate the public about hazards of such crimes . Some traditional families who have been employing children ( and taking good care of them ) see nothing wrong in doing so . So make sure that the public knows the law as a first step.Recommend

  • wasim

    Excellent article, giving an over view of the current situation. Thank you Arshad Mahmood for highlighting and voicing such an important social issue in existing unfortunately in 21st century in our country.

    Respected Mr Shahbaz Sharif Chief Minister of Punjab, and Mr Nawaz Sharif , Prime Minister of Pakistan, please do something to save our children our futureRecommend

  • Adnan Sajid

    Mr Shahbaz Sharif, honorable Chief Minister of Punjab, is to take serious notice and quick action against this kind of inhumane activity and immediately ban child labour as a part of the amendment in the Employed of Children Act 1991 notified by federal Govt in past i.e complete ban on Child Domestic Labour under the Punjab Employment of Children Amendement Act 2011. As most of the cases of violence against children doing domestic labour have been occur ed in Punjab, so Mr. Sharif may please look into the matter on priority basis. I am confident that the situation in respect of DCL incidents will not be too much different in remaining Provinces and regions of Pakistan, but mostly in such sort of cases there is no proper reporting mechanism from community to State authorities , which must be there. Lastly, i shall humbly request honorable CM Punjab to expedite the process of enactment of Article 25-A for a better Punjab in short run and for a better Pakistan in long run.Recommend

  • Nangial

    government of Punjab should take notice of the growing violence against child domestic labour cases and respond immediately.Recommend

  • Adnan Sajid

    Well said only a piece of paper in form of law can do nothing to save lives of innocent children, if not door to door at least at Union Council level the Govt. must encourage and strengthen the CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) to report such incidents to local state authorities, all the human rights forums at Provincial level must put the enactment of Article 25 A in general and enactment of Punjab Employment of Children Amendement Act 2011 in particular.Recommend

  • Habiba

    This notion is worth noting. Being a
    signatory of UNCRC and after its ratification Pakistan is bound to asume
    individuals below the age of 18 as children. No mater Pakistan has the relaxation
    of age for children to earn money, but this never meant that children should be
    kept as bounded labor and can be even beaten to death. every day heinous
    stories of violence against children is reported in newspapers and on
    electronic media, but unfortunately they receive no attention or are just
    noticed for a short period of time.

    This is not only true about the
    government but the civil society organizations also have the same attitude. There
    are hundreds of organizations working for child rights but there are merely a
    few of them who stand by the victim’s family to peruse their cases in courts or
    lead a result oriented campaign to attain the desired outcome. Though civil
    societies are not duly responsible for looking after children in deplorable
    condition on the country but they are responsible to monitor the situation children
    are living in and can hold the government responsible for it.

    The government has to take
    appropriate measures to overcome the issue of child domestic labour and the
    implementation of free and compulsory education for all, and the civil society
    is equally responsible to raise and stand for children, to get a life free of
    all forms of slavery and enjoy their childhood as they are promised in the Law
    of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Adnan Sajid

    I think its not too late for Punjab Govt. to work proactively for enactment of Article 25 A and complete ban on CDL under the Punjab ECA Act 2011 to increase the literacy rate of Province and saving lives of innocent children of Punjab.Recommend

  • Imran Takkar

    An excelent overview of Mr. Arshad Mahmood on the state of child domestic labor in Pakistan. Keeping in view to protect children from all kind of abuse and exploitation it is the state responsaibility, therefore, despite the serious action in the said death case of the innocent Domestic Worker in Panjab, The Government should ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention and enact national legislation to grant domestic worker their rights and ban domestic labor comletely.Recommend

  • imran takkar

    An excelent overview of Mr. Arshad Mahmood on the state of child domestic labor in Pakistan. Keeping in view to protect children from all kind of abuse and exploitation it is the state responsaibility, therefore, despite the serious action in the said death case of the innocent Domestic Worker in Panjab, The Government should ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention and enact national legislation to grant domestic worker their rights and ban domestic labor comletely.Recommend

  • Imran Takkar

    Government should immediately ban on child domestic labor and child domestic labour should be added in the schedule of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991 through an official notification.Recommend

  • Dr.Naveed

    A well written article exposing the actual situation of child abuse .Whatever the situation is ,brutal mentality reflects in all incidents.The number of cases identified in Punjab are increasing day by day leaving the mystery unsolved.The role of media is also very important in highlighting these issues on one side but it doesn’t mean that the situation is very good in other provinces from where we have not heard any news of such cases since long time ago, should also be accounted for .As mentioned ,this is every one’s responsibility not only to ensure the rights of children but also join hands to highlight these issues to advocate the federal and provincial govt for the proper legislation across the board.Recommend

  • Irshad Danish

    Excellent article giving insight about phenomenon of child domestic labour. There are thousands of children in Pakistan who are facing the worst forms of the domestic labour playing havoc with their lives. These children are not only
    deprived of education, healthy development, the right to health, the right to
    protection from abuse, exploitation and neglect, the right to live with their
    family and the right to play but their future is also completely blighted. It
    is unfortunate to say that most of the child domestic labourers dead and still
    alive are found in rich localities labouring in Bungalows of Ministers,
    Secretaries, government officials and educated class.

    In 2011, the ILO adopted Domestic Workers Convention (Convention 189),
    which provides protection to children working inside homes. In 2004, the ILO
    estimated that more than 264,000 children were working as child domestic
    workers in Pakistan in hazardous and deplorable conditions. The absence of
    recognition of child domestic labour as a worst form of child labour makes it
    difficult to produce a precise estimate of the scale and impact of child
    domestic labour in Pakistan.

    The Government should ratify ILO Convention 189,
    declare child domestic labour as a worst form of child labour and ban it under
    the Employment of Children Act (ECA) by 2013.Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    The neo-Islamists in this fear-evoking photo, portray the Zeitgeist of the Pakistani society. They are the underprivileged, mentally and physically abused children of yesterday!

    Now they strike back as professional killers, with all their accumulated destructive and hate energy against the injustices of a cruel society – Revenge is sweet and the highest reward and recognition for them!

    From anarchy reigned, Pakistani society with its decaying conscience has flopped…… morally, politically, intellectually, economically and socially.

    The society has followed a foreign religion which nourishes poverty and social injustice. The Allah sent an angel to tell the humans, that they should donate 2 1/2 paisas from every rupee they save to the poor. How generous!!!!!!! Why did this self-pleasing Allah not order the humans to eradicate the stigma of poverty and place it as the first and highest pillar of his religion? So what we see around us in Pakistan is divinely ordained!Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    I fear I missed the photo in the comment!Recommend

  • Miqdad Naqvi

    Dear Arshad, Although You have requested to Chief Minister Punjab to Ban Child Domestic Labor, I hope he will take notice, But Its very unfortunate situation in Punjab, the issues of children Rights are not the priority of the Government,
    The children are being killed, abused and exploited on daily basis but we don’t see any serious effort except in few cases CM take notice, provided some financial assistance, media coverage and then finished. Child Domestic Labor, the worst forms of slavery in Pakistan, as you mentioned its 22nd case of death in Punjab. But Government is not even concerned about it.
    You are very right its not only the Government, society must also play its role but naturally prime responsible is State, Sorry to say but its fact Punjab Government has not shown the commitment since its inception 2007, we didn’t observe any single major legislative step, not any policy change for the protection of the rights of children.Recommend

  • Nabeela Waheed

    It is very sad news for us whenever Pakistan is still among the top ten countries with the child labor issues although the country had Child Protection Departments and Bureaus since 2004 and civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations have tried their best to raise awareness in this regard and, with the help of international donors, have also funded programs to address the issue
    .Children continue to be abducted, rented, bought and sold in Pakistan, where Nike was famously accused of exploiting lapse underage work laws for the production of soccer balls. Most of the labor offences occur in the nation’s Punjab province, which is a global supplier of stitched rugs, musical instruments and sports equipment.

    Ranking from Maplecroft.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-worst-child-labor-risks-2012-1?op=1#ixzz2pgkhq2bDRecommend

  • ibad

    It’s an eye opening article on child domestic labor by Mr. Arshad Mehmood. I
    agree with him the issue is to ban child domestic labor especially when it
    causes so much innocent child tortures and deaths.

    I did not see any point why the federal and provincial governments did not put
    ban on child domestic labor – Wrong is wrong we should not keep our eyes
    closed.Recommend

  • gul Naz

    Govt should take serious notice of the said case and ban child domestic labor through legislation.Recommend

  • Nabeela Waheed

    It is very sad news for us in this scenario whenever Pakistan is still among the top ten countries with the child labor issues although the country has had Child Protection Departments and Bureaus since 2004 and civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations have tried their best to raise awareness in this regard and, with the help of international donors, have also funded programs to address the issue.Recommend

  • Zarin Shoaib

    An extremely well written article. Thank you for highlighting what ills our society.

    Such cruelty is highly intolerable. I think a society is reflected in how it treats it’s children. Stop and bring more equality. Pakistani society is suffering from serious discrimination and injustices based on income and class. Stop. These are not signs of a compassionate and kind nation.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough”. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Do support a platform that intends to highlight such issues and injustices and attempt at trying to make a difference one random act of kindness at a time:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Social-Equality-in-Pakistan/260961790728625Recommend

  • Zarin Shoaib

    “To avoid such cases the federal government should put an immediate ban on the employment of minors and child domestic labour should be added in the schedule of banned occupations under the Employment of Children Act (ECA) 1991 through an official notification”.

    Entirely agree with you Sir.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    I have noticed that your comments are virulently hateful of Pakistan and Islam. I respect your choice to be an atheist but that doesn’t give you the right to insult others. If you have such a problem with Pakistan you are free to leave. As for you questions ask every other religion’s followers that Question. Why stop at Islam only?Recommend

  • sane

    Child domestic labor is not the only problem. Look other side as children are forced to work at shops, mechanical workshops, markets. They are meagerly paid and occasionally assaulted sexually too. This abuse is bigger than the curse and pain a child labor has.Recommend

  • sane

    We show concern about child labor including domestic ones and on the other hand also employ children for our domestic chores. We see such children around at our neighbors, relatives and friends and want government to curb or ban this. What we have to do.

    Hai Kitna Accha Larka/Larki hay. Bohut accha kam karta/karti hay aik meray liay bhee intizam kardo. Double standards.Recommend

  • Amna Sarwar

    A well written article by Mr. Arshad Mahmood highlighting the social dilemma of child domestic labour in the country. This hideous practice is consistently affecting the lives of number of innocents since long. I agree with the introduction and implementation of related laws and legislation to reduce the number of such kind of incidences. However, alongside, there should be proactive role of human right activists, civil society and Non-Governmental organizations to initiate mass media and advocacy campaigns for creating awareness among relevant stakeholders regarding the harmful consequences of this practice.Recommend

  • Gowal Zaidi

    Dear Mr Arshad, why don’t you comment on the destruction of the polio campaign in Pakistan as a result of Save the children using the polio campaign as a pretext to find and locate Usama Bin Laden. I’m not going to argue about whether this raid was right or not, but your organization single handedly signed the death warrent for thousands of children in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Nasir Haleem

    Mr. Arshad Mahmood! Agreed and appreciate your efforts for advocacy on Child Rights in Pakistan …. The issues you identified are really a matter of concern for the PML(N) government in Pakistan and particularly in Punjab.Recommend

  • Saeed Ansari

    If the Nations controlling our Govt want child labor then we can do nothing ,,, Do not take their aid and be free ,,,Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    My comments are not for you and not for people who live in a fictive world. I have a logic in my comment and they are not hateful. It is your subjective perception.
    I am a Pakistani, a Lahori from the last 15 decades! And I am a victim of a dreadful religion brainwashing, in a age when I could not defend myself. I am one living character from which Mr. Mehmood is talking about – child torture-! Your biased mind has missed to feel the deep pain in my comments!Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    I just said I respect your choice to be an atheist however you must respect others choice to be believers. It is not wise to insult people just because they have an opinion different then yours. I don’t think it is a choice that will be agreeable to any body’s conscience.Recommend

  • sane

    Love Pakistan or Leave PakistanRecommend

  • Mohammad

    Heart cries over yet another extremely unfortunate incident of such kind. Dictatorships/anarchy reigned Pakistani society with such a lack of conscience has failed in every aspect of moral, political, intellectual, economical and social life. Absence of democracy and a good political system which is the basic fabric of any society and consequently, a complete absence of equal rights, prevailing injustices by law not being above everyone and everything has accumulated this hate, supression and intolerance in Pakistan’s population.Recommend

  • waheeduzzamantariq

    There are many questions to this tragedy. The poor try to overcome their poverty by putting the future of their children at stake. Many children were sold by their parents for being used as camel jokies. When such children were rescued and repatriated, most of them were unable to find their parents and nobody came to claim them. The children are sold even to those who use them as suicide bombers on later dates after their brain washing and training. The children are sold for begging or even their own parents employ them for beggary. How many of them end up as homeless street boys and few lucky ones end up in Edhi home or such like places.
    It is the parents, who lend them to be employed in homes, trucks (where they are sexually assaulted), workshops and cottage industry. The children cannot decide about themselves at that tender age. Despite all claims for free education for all, why these children are deprived of education?
    Those who emply them in their homes, with few exceptions, consider them as subhuman primates, keep them underfed and overworked, house them in cage like accommodation and believe in no working hour schedule. They abuse them for all kind of activities and beat them badly. WHo supplies them these human slaves? The parents or the society? The government has many other issues to tackle. Where are NGOs and philantropists of the society?
    Till the questions remain unanswered the matter will remain as such.Recommend

  • Irfan Shah

    Yes, there should be a ban over child domestic labor as it would have not only a psychological impact over public considering it a crime rather a tool to spread awareness against the evil of child domestic labor. You are right, many cases are not reported and if reported, victim’s family is forced to have renunciation from the case by threatening or paying. As a reference, follow the case of 6 children who died in wall collapse in a village of District Nankana sahib, where the Wadera of the village forced the victims family not to file a case and paid an amount of 100000 to poor familiy (16666 for each child).More over, Police helped the landlord by pressurizing the victim’s family not to file the case (Nawa-e-Waqt, Jan-7).

    CM punjab need to play his role to have the children their rights. Every citizen should play his role as well to stop this violence and report it or at-least raise voice if any such happening is going on in surrounding.Recommend