n May 1, a team of the Child Protection Bureau along with the police raided a house in Khayaban Colony of Faisalabad and rescued two sisters. 11 years old Iman Fatima and eight-year-old Zahra [Have the names been changed to protect identities?] were hired as domestic help in the house for Rs 4,000 and Rs 3,000 per month.
According to the police, apart from bruises and injuries on the body of the two sisters, signs of beating were evident on their faces. The eyes of one of the girls were swollen.
In their statement to the police the survivors mentioned that they were beaten up and tortured after being accused stealing bread and not doing the household chores to the satisfaction of the employer.
At the request of the Child Protection Bureau, the police registered a case against the house owner, Waqar, his brother, Bilal, as well as their wives.
However, at the first appearance in the court, the girls and their mother denied the statements given to the Child Protection Bureau and the police. The accused were then released by the court.
On March 28, an FIR was registered against Bilal and Shaban, residents of Gulberg Colony, at the Gulberg police station for brutally murdering a ten-year-old domestic servant Muhammad Ali. According to the police, after killing the victim, the accused had tried to make it look like a suicide.
According to the investigating officer of this case, Sub-Inspector Mohammad Sarfraz, after a few hearings, the court released the accused after they reached a settlement with the parents of the deceased.
Behind high gates in Faisalabad’s posh areas, hundreds of children work as servants. Many of them face torture and humiliation but the culprits remain unpunished despite media reports of abuse and beatings.
According to the data obtained from the Faisalabad Police, 22 cases were registered under the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 between January 2018 and July 2023. 53 people were arrested in this regard.
However, the victims in 21 of these cases denied the statements given to the police when they were produced in the courts. As a result, the courts released the arrested the accused.
It should be noted that, under Section 34 of the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004, a person keeping a child under 18 years of age in his custody or committing a violation of other provisions of this Act, can be imprisoned for three months to five years and fined between Rs 10,000 and Rs 100,000.
Sara Ahmed, chairperson of the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau, an organisation established for the protection and legal assistance of children who have been victims of violence, says that during the last three years, 437 children were rescued from violence. “More than 300 cases are currently in the courts. The accused have not been punished in any of the cases,” she says.
According to Advocate Muhammad Adil, the legal adviser of Child Protection Bureau, the affected children and their parents do not come forward to give their testimonies in most cases of abuse.
He says that since the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 came into force, the accused have been punished in only one case. “About three months ago, the court sentenced one Owais Mujahid and his sister Sonia to two years in prison and ordered them to pay Rs 400,000 to the victim,” recalled the lawyer.
Adil said that Iman Fatima and Zahra, who were recovered on May 1, had changed their statement before the court. They had instead stated in the court that their mother and not they were employed at the house. They also said that their injuries were caused by accidental falls and not violence.
“We counsel the minors who survive [abuse] as well as parents. We try to engage with them through psychologists but in most cases, they choose to settle and rescind their cases instead of waiting for two to three years for the trial to be completed,” says Adil.
The government introduced the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019 to prevent child labour in the name of domestic work.
According to Section 3 of this Act, no child below the age of 15 years can be employed for household work. In case of a violation, the person who employs a child less than 12 years of age can be imprisoned for up to one month. In case of employing a child less than 15 years of age, they can be fined up to Rs 50,000.
Under this law, children older than years can be employed as domestic workers only for light work. Light work is defined in the Act as “activities which do not adversely affect the health, safety and education of the child.”
According to Labour Director West Faisalabad Ghulam Shabbir, however, labour inspectors have not yet been notified to take action against citizens employing children under the age of 15. “Section 36 of the Act also prohibits inspection of a house without receiving a complaint or on the direction of a Dispute Resolution Committee constituted under Section 25,” he saysThe Dispute Resolution Committees are yet to be formed.
According to the Punjab Child Labour Survey 2019-20, the number of children between the ages of five and 14 working as child labour is more than 3.8 million.
A total of 48 per cent of children are exposed to unfavourable environments. 9 per cent work in hazardous industries or occupations. 13 per cent of children are forced to work during night hours.
According to this report, the total number of children working as domestic workers or housemaids in the Punjab is more than 76,000.
A report by Sahil, a social organisation working for the protection of children, stated that between January and June 2023, a total of 2,227 children were subjected to physical and sexual violence, (1,207 girls and 1,020 boys).
Sahil’s Legal Adviser Imtiaz Ahmed Soomra said that cases of violence and exploitation of children working as domestic workers were rarely reported in the media due to which it was not possible to estimate the exact number.
“Rizwana torture case has been reported due to the media. Earlier, the case of Tayiba who was subjected to torture at the house of a civil judge was also reported due to the media. On the other side, there is no mechanism at the government level to collect data on such incidents, he says.
He says that in other provinces cases of child exploitation are rarely reported. Even those cases are suppressed before the matter goes before a court.
Soomra says Section 328A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which covers violence against children and other crimes, can be more effective than the Punjab Destitute and Neglected Act 2004 and Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019.
“In 2016, the Pakistan Penal Code was amended to introduce Section 328A. Under this section, anyone who commits cruelty to children can be imprisoned for one to three years and fined between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000.” He says that the government had made the law but has yet to enforce it. WISE, a social organisation that works for the rights of domestic workers and women, says that in the period from January 2019 to February 2021, 74 cases of physical and sexual violence against children were reported in the Punjab. Out of those 15 of the victims died or were killed in violence.
“Children are working as domestic workers in every fourth household in Pakistan. They are also subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. In many cases, they die,” she adds.
Maria Hussain, a child psychologist who works to restore the psychological and mental health of children rescued by the Child Protection Bureau, says that children who have been victims of violence and exploitation often suffer from psychological problems for a long time. “Such children suffer from persistent lack of confidence, anxiety, depression and despair, and find it difficult to socialise with other children,” said the psychologist.
Psychologist Jawahara Ehsan, posted at Allied Hospital II (District Headquarters Hospital, Faisalabad) says that children who have been victims of physical and sexual violence remain traumatised for a long time. “If their psychological rehabilitation is not started in time, there is a heightened risk of suicide,” says Ehsan. “What abused children should be given first is a sense of security,” she says.
The writer has beenassociated with journalism for the past decade.He tweets naeemahmad876