The torture of underage domestic help in Pakistan is once more making headlines, amidst public outrage over the cases of Rizwana in Islamabad; Fatima in Khairpur; and Kamran in Lahore, to name but a few of the incidents that have come to light in the recent past. Unfortunately, these are just a fraction of the cases that are reported daily, with most getting buried by the “influential” people who perpetrate the abuse. It is common practice for a certain class of Pakistani to employ young servants—most barely in their teens—in violation of child labor laws and seeming impunity from any legal action.
In 14-year-old Rizwana’s case, the “shock” has resulted from her abuse being allegedly perpetrated by an “educated” family of a civil judge. Kamran, 11, meanwhile, died after being brutally beaten for taking food from a fridge without permission from his employer in Lahore’s posh DHA locality, with his younger brother, 7-year-old Rizwan, also being seriously injured. Ten-year-old Fatima’s case sent shockwaves as CCTV footage emerged of her struggling to move before dying, with a postmortem indicating she was the victim of sustained beatings and repeated sexual assault while employed at a local influential family of Pirs. All three cases have been registered with police—but not without expected resistance, as law enforcers continue to facilitate the “elite” abusers while failing to ensure the protection of their minor victims.
A common element in almost all cases of child labor are low-income families, often hailing from rural areas, who believe the only viable option for the future of themselves, and their children, is through employment in wealthy households. Many of these families lack the financial wherewithal to educate or even feed all their children, their entrenched poverty becoming the fundamental cause of child labor. These children are led to believe they cannot afford dreams of education, or future development, often working as waiters, servants, sanitary workers, and laborers for peanuts in a form of modern slavery. But rather than ensuring—at the least—that their basic needs are met, their employers treat them as little more than objects, meting out beatings and abuse without any fear of legal reprisal. Pakistan cannot continue to treat its children in this manner. The government must ensure its child labor laws are fully implemented and education is a priority; failure to do so would mean we’ll see many more Rizwanas, Kamrans and Fatimas in the months and years to come.