Pakistan: Prosecute assembly member's family for murder of child helper

Asia Human Rights
July 14, 2017
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

On 12 June 2017, Pakistan's print and electronic media was abuzz with the murder of a teenager serving a politically influential family in Lahore. Master Akther was reportedly tortured to death by his employer Fauzia, who is the daughter of provincial legislator Ms. Shah Jahan, belonging to the ruling party, PML-N.

According to Lahore's Akbari Mandi police station, Akhter's 9-year-old sister Attiya was also beaten and tortured by Shah Jahan and her daughter. The brother and sister duo used to work at Ms. Shah Jahan's house, and were not allowed to meet their parents.

PAKISTAN: Prosecute assembly member's family for murder of child helperAccording to police officers investigating the case, Fauzia hit 17-year-old Akhter with a stick, which proved fatal. Fauzia and her family meanwhile, claim that Akhter's death was due to consuming something poisonous.

This is the third reported case of child domestic abuse in Pakistan this year, although many cases go unreported. A judge and his wife were charged earlier this year for torturing their child servant. The case is pending in court at present, with the girl's parents agreeing to an out of court settlement.

The issue of hiring children domestic helpers lies at the core of Pakistan's class struggle: the widening wage gap has made it impossible for many citizens living below the poverty line to remain financially aloft, forcing them to send their children to work.

According to the International Labour Organization's 2014 report, Pakistan has the third largest child workforce in the world, even as other countries are seeing a decline in underage workers. Furthermore, child domestic labour is considered the 'worst' form of child labour, where children are subjected to physical and mental torture within the homes and hidden from society. Child domestic labour is also paid the least with the longest working hours. Children usually move to their employer's home and have no contact with their own families for months.

According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), violence against domestic child workers is on the increase; between January 2010 and December 2014, 47 cases of violence against child domestic workers were reported in different parts of the country, while as many as 24 children lost their lives from violence committed by their employers. The Institute of Social Justice reported 29 child house workers' deaths from torture between 2011 and 2015. In 2013, 13 children died as a result of violence at their work place, in addition to 21 cases of physical torture by employers.

There are no official statistics available on the number of underage domestic helpers currently employed or economically active in the country. The last National Child Labour Survey was conducted in 1996 which estimated the number to be at 3.3 million. The only statistics available are from SPRC; according to the organization's 2015 annual report, there are 264,000 underage domestic workers confronting cruel and unsafe working environments.

Given the lack of legislation penalizing employment of underage domestic helpers, influential employers take advantage of poverty, and get away even with murder, by paying the aggrieved family 'hush money'. The practice of paying 'hush money' as compensation is particularly prevalent in Punjab, where most cases of abuse occur. Urban areas are particularly notorious for the practice.

Local laws are insufficient and redundant to deal with the menace of child domestic labour. Domestic labour is mentioned in only two legislations, the Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance 1965 (PESSO), and the Minimum Wage Ordinance 1961. Neither of these mention child workers, nor do they have provisions protecting them. Meanwhile, the Employment of Children Act 1991 does not include domestic labour as one of the banned occupations.

Pakistan has also not signed the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers (2011) which could have had the most impact on the ground. It calls for comprehensively banning child labour in the domestic sector and for setting up of a minimum age for domestic workers consistent with the ILO conventions on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and Work, and the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

It is important for Pakistan to carry out a serious and comprehensive survey to find out the exact magnitude of its child labour problem. Implementation of national laws, treaties and conventions to stop child labour, absolutely and completely, is a must.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the prosecution of assembly member Ms. Shah Jahan and her daughter Fauzia, for the death of Akhter and for hiring a child helper. Furthermore, the government should prevent all out-of-court settlements in cases of domestic worker abuse. There should be zero tolerance against forced child labour and a national policy against it. A policy regarding their minimum wages and access to social protection must also be implemented. The government should ensure the inclusion of the an informal sector representative in the tripartite mechanism and make amendments in the labour and child labour inspection mechanism for adherence to the existing laws, child protection laws, and the Punjab Employment of Children (Amendment) Act, 2011.