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Islamabad

December 3, 2011

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Unheard voices of child domestic servants

Unheard voices of child domestic servants

Child domestic labour is acknowledged as an issue in Pakistan, but no one has ever imagined the pain and agony a child domestic labour passes through. Samar Minallah’s new documentary ‘I Have a Dream’ (Kuch Khwaab Hain Meray) makes one truly feel the anguish of a little child who is made to do the labour that is even too much for adults.
The documentary is yet another feather in the cap of Samar Minallah known for her extraordinary work in taking up vital social issues with an aim to initiate a discussion and effort at all levels.
Having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Anthropology, Samar’s interests lie in civil and human rights, which she translates to film, holding up a mirror to certain aspects of society in order to effect change. Samar is one of the first Pakistani filmmakers who used video to give voices to the marginalised by making socially relevant documentaries.
The heart-touching documentary launched here on Friday is about the unheard voices of Child Domestic Servants in Pakistan. ‘I have a dream’ or ‘Kuch Khwaab Hain Meray’ is one of the first documentaries on the issue of Child Domestic Labour in Pakistan. It highlights a form of exploitation that is being carried on as a socially acceptable norm in our society. The documentary has been produced by Sparc (Society for the protection of the rights of child).
Samar Minallah Khan, the director of the documentary, said that getting education should be the right of each and every child but sadly, it is a dream for majority of working children in Pakistan. “Even in the worst of times, it is this dream that brings a smile on their face,” she said sharing her experiences of making a documentary around a highly sensitive but generally ignored social issue. She further added that the aim of the documentary is to break the silence around the hidden nature of child domestic labour. “What made it difficult to highlight was the fact that most of the children are locked away in private homes that are inaccessible to not only the outsiders but also to their family and friends.”
Highlighting the evil dynamics of child domestic labour, she said that it is perceived as a safe form of employment where the employer is making a favour on the child and his family. “Since ages, it has been considered as a socially acceptable form of employment. Beliefs that parents or employers act in the best interest of these children has become a norm. Whereas, in reality children amongst the poor are seen as a commodity and a child domestic labour, as one less mouth to feed.”
According to ILO, child domestic employment becomes a worst form of child labour when the child has been sold; is bonded or works without pay; works excessive hours in isolation at night; is exposed to grave safety or health hazards; is abused in the household or is at risk of physical violence or sexual harassment; and works at a very young age.’
In the documentary, renowned psychologist Ambreen Ahmed talks about the emotional and psychological aspects of children especially girls working as domestic servants. She emphasises that the emotional impact of being a child and that too a servant can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anger and depression.
“I was sad all the time, but night times were difficult. I would miss my sister a lot. At home she would sleep with me, and whenever I would think of her I would cry,” said innocent Asma describing her experience in the documentary. Asma works as a full time domestic servant.
Ayesha (9) from Karachi narrates, “They would make me sleep on the terrace at night. I wasn’t allowed to sleep inside. I told them that I was afraid of sleeping outside but they would start scolding me and tell me to stay quiet and sleep outside. I was always scared at night, but I didn’t have a choice.” Waqar, who became a domestic labour after he ran away from home, had a spark that even a child studying in expensive elite schools would be lacking. He was the only servant in a house in Clifton.
I A Rehman from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states in the documentary that there is no concept of ‘rights’ in Pakistan. “We, as a society would feed a child but not talk about his or her basic right to education.” The documentary not only highlights the various forms of exploitation but also talks about the lack of laws to protect these children. It discusses the famous case of Shazia Masih from Lahore who was employed by a lawyer and later died of neglect at the employer’s house.
The documentary ends with a message full of hope. This comes across through an interview of a girl child from Mardan who now goes to school instead of work.
Speaking on the occasion, Ashfaq Saleem Mirza said that such documentaries can help in bringing change in the social mindset.

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