In 2014, slavery still exists…

Published: June 15, 2014
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This pervasive exploitation and continuous injustice towards domestic workers does not get any attention – except when someone dies. PHOTO: RAHEEL LAKHANI

Children are beautiful, innocent, simple and sweet. Therefore, they are loved, cajoled, pampered and spoiled. They get special treatment, selected food, quality education, prompt healthcare and extra attention.

But this is not true for every child.

Not every child is considered beautiful, simple and pure.

Some children are born to live as children while others are born to live as slaves. These slave children are neglected and forgotten. They are beaten day in and day out, humiliated and assaulted. They are the waiters, the maids and the mechanics. They are the ones you take one glance at and then look away, because they look filthy. They are the children you ignore.

These modern day slaves remain unnoticed and unattended. This servitude is not lamented or condemned by the media or government. Amongst working children, those working at homes get the worst deal and between girls and boys, girls are most vulnerable to oppression. These girls often start working at tender ages and live their lives in misery and exploitation.

Iram, 10, was an orphan and one of five siblings. She was sent from a small village in Okara to work in a posh locality of Lahore. There, she was beaten for days with iron rods and gas pipes over a false allegation of theft. She succumbed to the torture and fainted after vomiting blood. When her oppressors brought her to the hospital, she was already dead. However, the family responsible for her murder was more concerned about the upcoming marriage in their house than the fact that they had brutally killed an innocent child.

Fizza, 15, was working for an educated family in Defence, Lahore. She started working at the age of nine with her mother and later on, she was left there, all alone. Her landlord made her an object of punishment and penance. She was beaten on a routine basis and was denied medical treatment, even when her bones and joints were broken. She used to be tied by her wrists and ankles by a tight rope, as punishment. She was unconscious when they finally brought her to the hospital, and remained in a coma for two days. After that, her lungs stopped working and her brain ruptured, causing her death.

Azra, 17, had been working since her childhood. At her last employment, she was sexually assaulted by the son of her landlord. Later, when the family found about the rape, fearing that she might report it against their son, she was strangulated and killed by the landlord’s family.

Muneeza was luckier than the former three, as she was rescued in time, due to intervention from the media and the police. She was beaten repeatedly but had the good sense to report to her family; otherwise, she would most likely have met the same fate.

There are startling similarities amongst these cases. The girls are usually minors, tortured by educated but insensitive families. They are not provided any medical aid, even when they are exceptionally sick, and are made to work in the worst weather conditions.

They are never considered humans. There rights are often ignored. And those who torture them feel that they are invincible. All the families, in the aforementioned cases, showed little remorse after their crimes were unearthed. And their audacity is such that they are currently fighting cases in courts, still negating their guilt.

Like Iram, Fizza and Muneeza, countless others face the same treatment and meet the same fate ultimately. This pervasive exploitation and continuous injustice towards domestic workers does not get any attention – except when someone dies. And even then, nothing substantial happens. News flashes on the idiot box for a few days, the hype is created, ratings are made, advertisements are received, attention begins to dwindle and after a week or so, no one hears about these cases. It is business as usual.

Institutional checks on exploitation of labour are otherwise ineffective, but for the domestic help, they are non-existent. The enactment of the Child Protection Act and establishment of child protection bureaus do provide a mechanism for rehabilitation of homeless children but under-age domestic servants have no protection. Similarly, the Employment of Children Act 1991 bars children from working at certain establishments that require physical labour, but that too does not address domestic workers.

There is practically no age limit for children to work as domestic helps. Even an infant can be employed as a servant. There is no safeguard of pay or working hours. Maids and servants are at the sweet will and mercy of their owners, who treat them like pre-civil war slaves. Mostly, domestic workers come from poor families – have no homes, and no place to run to. The ruthlessness of ‘demand and supply’ and an utter lack of decent employment opportunities or lack of free education, works against them and they are left with no choice but to continue with this serfdom.

It is about time that this modern day slavery is ended. Now is the time to rise against cruelty and exploitation; one that takes place right under our nose every single day. The time has come to restore the dignity of these children and make them useful citizens.

There should be new legislation on minimum wage, age limit and working conditions for domestic workers. Employment of females under 18 should be completely banned and even those employed after they are off-age should be protected. And this law should be implemented, not framed and put aside as a face saver.

These children are perishing before our eyes. If we won’t stand up to own and protect them, then who will?

Umar Riaz

Umar Riaz

A civil servant and member of the Police Service of Pakistan, who has studied Public Policy at Maxwell School Syracuse University, USA as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow (2010-11), presently serving as Superintendent of Police in Lahore. He tweets as @umarriaz40 (twitter.com/umarriaz40)

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

  • danyal

    Thanks wish we all do something for our misfortune sons and daughtersRecommend

  • Moiz Omar

    When humans lack humanity.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Good piece. I totally agree with you. I wish that this slavery would end, but realistically speaking it is almost impossible to end it anytime soon (soon=next 10-15 years). I am not a pessimist , and I would gladly do anything to end this atrocity but the fact remains that not most, but ALL of these girls come from low income families who belong to rural areas or live in slums where education and awareness of ones rights is almost nil.
    The only way this can be remedied is if the government gives them education on one hand and then hands out hefty punishments(jail-time, whipping,fines of over 10 million rupees) to the ones who torture their maids on the other.
    Sorry for the rant–ish kind of comment but that’s the way i see it.Recommend

  • Sabina Mikal Naqvi

    If you are Muslim then you have no reason to get testy about slavery because your holy book condones it.Recommend

  • UzairH

    You have highlighted a tragic reality of third world nations, especially the sub-continent and Africa. Slavery may be globally outlawed but it is still pervasively practiced in different forms, and we must end it for good.

    Also, very nicely written Umar, and it is good to see that among the police force there are educated men, and more importantly, men of conscience. I wish you all the best in the execution of your duties.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    We can / should do our bit by refusing to employ child servants , by not patronising /ostracising neighbours / friends who do such things . As for beggars ( child or adult) , stop giving money. Money brings many evils. Instead we can always distribute food or clothes or slippers for those who beg.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    and JUST WHERE does it condone it? its very easy to make up something like this but very difficult to provide a reference. you will not find A SINGLE VERSE OR QUOTATION WHICH CONDONES CHILD LABOR OR SLAVERY.
    Tbh i am not sure if you are just trying to troll or lying. anyway feel free to post any proof that you have, and if you do not have proof then keep your mouth closed and plz dont lie.Recommend

  • Fawad Shah

    It is really ironic to see still people are practicing in such cruelty in society. By watching or reading about such gruesome facts we should look towards ourselves and ask questionsRecommend

  • KS

    That is really sick! I think this only happens in Lahore/ Punjab, as in Khi we get bullied by our maids! In spite of being extra extra nice and caring, they still leave you in the lurch if you don’t agree to all their outrageous demands. :(Recommend

  • KS

    That is really sick! I think this only happens in Lahore/ Punjab, as in Khi we get bullied by our maids! In spite of being extra extra nice and caring, they still leave you in the lurch if you don’t agree to all their outrageous demands. :(Recommend

  • Mr X

    Guess we never realize they are someones chidren as wellRecommend

  • Mr X

    Guess we never realize they are someones chidren as wellRecommend

  • Moiz Omar

    It is such a shame that slavery still exists in the modern era.Recommend

  • Noman

    Stupid irrelevant commentRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    plz do not LIE, just show me one instance in the ENTIRE muslim holy book ( the Quran) which condones slavery.Recommend

  • Umar Hussain

    you will notice these cases regarding karo kari, vani wata sata , child abuse, honor killing is prevalant all over pakistan except Urdu speaking community in KarachiRecommend

  • Haroon Christy Munir

    Umar Riaz sb first of all i would really like to thank you for bringing in such an important topic under the limelight.By taking advantage of this opportunity i would like to contribute that rather than waiting and watching all this and feeling bad about these little one’s, aren’t we as a nation should step up and take the initiative? We portray everything as government responsibility and forget that as a citizen of this nation we have some responsibilities too. Can we start it right from our homes saying NO to this slavery and influence others by our’s such act.I guess we could at least do this. We are a great nation and i truly believe that if we join in hands we can get rid of this slavery. Being a counselor in a professional organization i always tell my clients that there is not a single problem that does have a solution. The only thing we lack is to search for that solution supported by all time famous quote ‘Where there is a will there is a way’Recommend

  • Carolina

    Maximus,
    I understand you see this problem as impossible to end anytime soon. However, don’t you think that if laws were established to protect domestic workers, things would improve? From what Umar wrote, I see that one of the biggest issues is that at present there are no laws protecting domestic workers under the age of 18. Maybe establishing those laws would help reduce the cases of children being abused in such circumstances? What do you think?Recommend

  • Carolina

    I really like your spirit for action. I think that we all have responsibilities when it comes to solving problems that are part of this world. Starting campaigns to raise awareness about this issue in one’s local community can be the first step to putting an end to this.Recommend

  • Sumayyah Hai

    It’s good to know that someone who has empathy for victims is not another kind-heart-ed social worker or an empathizing freelance writer, but is actually a member of the government’s police force. Just when I had lost faith in all of our Government’s institutions. Sadly Umar Riaz, your will and sentiments aren’t shared by many in your organization. I mean, I don’t think there would be many in your own task force tbh. Either way: Thumbs up to you, Umar Riaz. I hope you can make change.Recommend

  • Sumayyah Hai

    It’s good to know that someone who has empathy for victims is not another kind-heart-ed social worker or an empathizing freelance writer, but is actually a member of the government’s police force. Just when I had lost faith in all of our Government’s institutions. Sadly Umar Riaz, your will and sentiments aren’t shared by many in your organization. I mean, I don’t think there would be many in your own task force tbh. Either way: Thumbs up to you, Umar Riaz. I hope you can make change.Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman

    Sorry to say, but you don’t even know a Word about Our Holy Book!
    Perhaps you should concentrate much more on reading, instead of commenting cheaply on Websites!Recommend