The forgotten children


Of a lesser god?



Employing underage domestic workers, unfortunately, goes deep in our society, mainly due to the deep-rooted feudal system



Attiya was too young to have seen what she saw that night. She saw her brother Akhtar Ali, only 16, beaten to death by their employer — cold-blooded murder that she knew, right at that moment, was never going to be avenged.

She might have asked herself what they had done to deserve such punishment; she might have even tried to justify the irrational wrath of her employer, who thrashed her brother to death without batting an eye. Countless questions might have appeared in the child’s mind about that one night. But Atiya, like Tayyaba and many others before her, will eventually surrender to a life of silence.

Welcome to our world, where children are kept as servants’ ormaids,’ and where these ‘servants’, if they dare disobey an order, are often just beaten to death by people who are vile enough to believe that they own them. Now these ‘owners,’ often the crème’ de la crème of the country, are usually able to get away with the heinous crimes they commit against these children — and it doesn’t take long for the matter to be forgotten and done away with.

Chances are you’ll get to witness these children everywhere, so often that you’ll eventually stop paying heed to the absurdity of it all. You’ll often see them in shopping malls, pushing the shopping carts for their bajis; at restaurants with a well-to-do family, often with young children not quite older than they themselves. You’ll see them carrying the bags of their owners’children when school gets off, knowing well enough that they’ll never be able to go to school.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2014-15, around 60,000 labourers in the country are underage and fall in the category of ‘child labour’. According to a statement issued by the Child Rights Movement (CRM) National Secretariat in 2016, “There are 8.52 million home-based workers in the country, and, according to the figures released in the National Policy on Home-Based Workers, the number of child labourers up to the age of 10 years is around 6 million.”According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) report in 2012, there are an estimated 12 million child labourers in Pakistan.

These children, instead of going to school, are often working long hours under inhumane conditions, without any social security— for a pittance that goes directly to their ‘guardians’.According to child rights activists, the actual number of children working as domestic labourers is hard to ascertain, since no proper survey on underage domestic workers has taken place since 1996.

There are child labour laws in place in Pakistan, however, nothing specifically tackling underage domestic workers.Establishing a law is one thing; implementing it is a totally different ballgame, as is often the case in Pakistan, where the law is often not that much of an inconvenience for the high and mighty.

It is therefore imperative to educate people about the plight of underage domestic workers in Pakistan; and the steps they can take, in their own capacity, to contribute towards curbing this practice.

Most of these children are forced by their parents to work, since they belong to poor households, living well below the poverty line, with a number of mouths to feed. They cannot afford to send their children to school and hence end up sending them to work. In this particular case, employers could, for example, take up the responsibility of educating these children.

Secondly, it is important to keep our eyes open, being aware of what’s going on in the households we know of where children are working— and then reporting anything strange or odd that we might come across. There are several NGOs working for the betterment of these underage labourers, which we could turn to for help.

Domestic child worker abuse won’t stop unless all of us realise that it is a collective effort, especially in a place like Pakistan, where laws take years, sometimes decades, to be fully implemented.

There are nearly always visible signs of domestic child workers being abused; just like it is said in cases of domestic violence, it is best not to ignore these signs.

Employing underage domestic workers, unfortunately, goes deep in our society, mainly due to the deep-rooted feudal system. But all we need to do is to take baby steps, which will add up, in the long run, into valuable movements in a positive direction.

And then maybe, with the passage of time, it might become completely unthinkable for us to observe a child working in a household without expressing shock.

The arrival of this moment will be what will signify the beginning of the end for domestic child labour — in time.