Not just a child, a servant

Published: December 2, 2011

“You are not just a child, you are a servant. You are not only a girl, you are a servant.”

This statement made by Dr Ambreen Ahmed highlights the sense of insecurity, and powerlessness faced by many girls in Pakistan who are made to work while they are still very young.

“I had never used an iron before and I burnt my hand the first time I was made to iron clothes,” says a girl no older than 12-years-old.

This utter disregard for the safety or rights of young children who are domestic labourers is prevalent in Pakistani society. Many are made to sleep in terraces or the hard floors of kitchens with no more than a piece of cloth for bedding.

“Just look at our helplessness,” says a young girl. “My heart aches at how young I am.”

In this documentary, Samar Minallah Khan highlights the dark aspects of child domestic labour in Pakistan. She documents the unheard voices of children who work in homes. The aim of the documentary is to bring forth the exploitation and lobby for legislation against child domestic labour in Pakistan.

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Samar Minallah

Samar Minallah

A graduate of the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Anthropology, Samar's interests lie in civil and human rights which she translates to film.

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

  • Iram

    yes i remember one time when i visited a hospital there were some women in group two were looking Begams and one was clearlly servent young child girl without sleepers …after half an hour both women got up and said to that girl we will come back soon, doctor called us…i was there also waiting for my turn after some time i went to my clinic. After 45 min that girl enter with a nurse crying and searching those her masters whom left her there abondend. She was crying and nurse was helping her to see all rooms but she said they had to pay me for three months so they found this way to get rid off… she said “i dont know nothing of this city what i do now”,,pooor girl …i dont know what happen with her …she came from outside city and ddnt knew even area and name of her master ….I asked to nurse what you will do with her…she said we try again and then leave her to security department they will think what to do….Recommend

  • ahmed

    the burning issue.Recommend

  • Zee

    My heart bleed watching this. How more cruel can some people be? It’s time to raise awareness about this issue. Recommend

  • Arsalan

    This is an important production Samar, and through widespread recognition of how household staff can be maltreated in Pakistan, we might be able to overcome this vice. It is a terribly exploitative practice and it should come to an end. It is also interesting to note, that Imran Khan, perhaps in a first for a politician, spoke of giving rights to household servants in the Lahore Jalsa. Wish you best with your future work.Recommend

  • Umair

    Why is it so hard for people to spend money and educate these very children and make a brighter future possible for them, rather than paying them below nominal wages and making them work for you….Recommend

  • samar minallah

    @Nayab Hayat: Good for you by setting an example. Cheap labour is one issue and depriving these children of their right to education is another. This documentary tries to reach out to the so called educated class from various backgrounds that you are referring to. It has become a norm in our society and we as individuals can question it. I could do it through a film that I volunteered to make as an independent film maker.Recommend

  • REader

    Holy crap. This society feels so doomed :'( I would have taken that girl and tried to help herRecommend

  • Parvez

    This issue is linked with population which is linked with education, linked to religious dogma, linked to a demand and supply situation in our society structure, linked to human values and more, all linked together. I admire people like you who try to raise an awareness of things but what Mr Rehman says in the opening needs to be addressed and only a responsible government effort can do that on a country/province level. Now where do you go to find a responsible government ??Recommend

  • Nayab Hayat

    @all I am a bit more interested in the solution. I agree the 1st step is to highlight the issue and know what is the issue and its root cause. Before Govt i think its our personal duty to eliminate such slavery from our homes. At least start educating them on your own. You all must have 1 servant at home. Go buy books for them!Recommend

  • Antebellum

    Imran Khan raised the issue of the rights of domestic servants and education for girls in his 30th October Lahore Jalsa.

    Vote for Imran Khan. Vote for PTI. Vote for Change. Vote for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Awais Shinwari

    A valuable effort by Samar. I hope it is just a beginning of a long journey aimed at creating awareness among the masses that these “kaam walis/walas” are more than just than that.Recommend

  • Awais Shinwari

    A valuable effort by Samar. I hope it is just a beginning of a long journey aimed at creating awareness among the masses that these “kaam walis/walas” are more than just that.Recommend

  • Komal

    This is a very important issue. I am looking forward to watching this documentary.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    Please highlight the other side of the picture too … As Pakistanis we always look towards the dark … Yes, as a society we have stooped down so low in everything, so is the case of this issue, no doubt, but I have known families who have taken these girls for household chores, given them a neat clean environment to live away from their unhygienic and unhealthy circumstances, educated them too and married them off with all the dowry and stuff … they are treated as family members and I have seen them eating on the same table in Pizza huts and KFCs !!!!! I can assure you they never wanted to go back to their villages in the outskirts of city even for vacations ….

    Having said that, please go to any gathering in a upper middle class society and just observe for ten minutes … the guys will be discussing Imran Khan’s “Inqilaab” and ladies their “rebellious” kaam walis !!! their “kaam chori” and “aankh mataka” with the neighbors’ driver …. I can bet there is no gathering today where the “nauker/naukerani” is not discussed ….. Dang it !!!! Recommend

  • Samina Khan

    Saw the documentary yesterday at SAFMA, Samar please let me know where I can get a copy as I think it is a must for all to see. The film is very sensitively done and powerfully conveys its message. I am hopeful if this is well deciminated can change present state of child domestic workers and move policy makers to make education compulsory at primary and secondary level.Recommend

  • sana

    great work samar – where can we see the full documentary?

    also, if you could have tribune post the link for this in their other article about this (here:, that would be great.Recommend

  • samar minallah

    @sana: You can contact for a copy. Sparc the producer of this documentary, works for the rights of children in Pakistan. Thank you for your suggestion and feedback :)Recommend

  • Syed Shabbar Raza

    First of all this is nothing new in over beloved country Pakistan. Child labor is part of our society since forever. We all adopted to this crime in our homes and on street side. Because it is hell cheap and readily available. Do we ever focus that why on first place this problem arise ?? why these poor souls have brooms in their hand instead of book. Answer is simple … hunger hunger hunger. The parents of these children just gave birth to them with out thinking about their future. When parents don’t have enough money to feed them then they are forced to make them work … some time they ended up only a belly full of food as their daily wages.
    So, the child labor cannot be stopped until unless we make awareness to the people that they should not have more children then they can afford … or at least show them the famous movie of shoaib mansoor … BOL
    Another point: we live in Islamic Republic of Pakistan … and how many among pay our duties .. yes I am talking about Zakat and alms. If we pay this to real need people instead of paying it to professionally beggar then may be it can provide a bit support to stop child labor. Recommend

  • syed Mazhar Elahi

    AHHH we do every things for our child.why we do not think of others child…………………..Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Baba Ji:
    With respect to what you’ve written, that doesn’t mean the issue should be ignored or taken lightly. Yes there are some genuinely decent, God fearing (for those who believe in a God) people who treat their kaam walis/walas with respect and love, but I think we all know that’s not always the case. The side the author has pointed out, the “dark” side is still very real and should be dealt with accordingly. Won’t be an overnight effort but people must start somewhere, and pointing out that there IS in fact a problem is the first step.
    On a random side note, the very fact that dowries still exist in Pakistani society is a damn shame. An ugly tradition that should be eradicated. But that’s a problem for another day.
    Nice piece and hope people continue to raise awareness. Cheers!Recommend

  • Hasnain Iqbal

    very serious and important issue.Nicely highlighted social issue to raise awareness. I hope in near future basic Education especially regarding young girls) will be prime importance than any other issue.Recommend

  • http://india khalis

    poverty is behind it and not to forget education and not information that is distributed in schools. they are the root cause. nothing elseRecommend

  • Zainab Makki Wajood

    Dear Samar,

    Im sure u get a lot of appreciation for your work and you deserve it all the more but both ur articles posted here touched such a deep cord that i was moved to tears!
    please keep up the awareness inshALLAH gradually but surely this will be a cornerstone to the new era of our society!!!
    ALLAH bless you.
    Warm Regards,
    Zainab Makki Recommend

  • Noman Vardag

    Respected Samar, salam, I am really proud of your courage, commitment, dedication and work for the emancipation of women especially Pakhtun women. Please keep it up. regards.Recommend

  • Sherghazi

    great peace of Art, These are the hidden cultural symbols of our society but totally ignored by us as well. Such things are use just to see smile on faces of NGO donors not more then that. We are doing nothing practically. Recommend

  • Adrian

    Poverty and lack of education are one of the causes why there has this kind of child labor and parents have no choice but to send their young ones to become a servant and do some hard task so that they could earn money for their daily living, I wonder what some social welfare organization must to do with these cases.Recommend

  • Shams Yousafzai

    You have raised a very important issue of domestic child labour. The documentary produced by you is stunning and very impressive and it makes one to rise and work for the rescue of the hundreds of thousands innocent children involved in this domestic child labour. I think there should be a law which propose capital punishment for those involved in this business which is a crime in fact. I assure every support to you in this Holy War pleaseRecommend

  • Zainab Makki Wajood

    Dear Adrian,
    i could agree with you more about the illiteracy and the part in plays in forcing poor ppl to send their kids to such extremes…but i cant help but wonder about the employers or exploiters of such poverty.
    We are educated…. we have seen the world and are able to tell the difference between a child and an adult….then why dont we put an end to this or take an initiative even on an individual level to make a difference in our society. I am sure we can put a child in school today and leave a positive mark of the child’s life forever rather than scarring it for life.

    Do we really want to make a difference? is a question all those who employ these children should ask themselves.
    Samar has brought it to our attention and knowledge now how we use it is our choice!Recommend