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January 31, 2019

Justice for Uzma

Editorial

January 31, 2019

Not content with the economic exploitation of the poor, our privileged seem to be intent on physically harming them as well. The murder of 16-year-old Uzma, who worked as a housemaid in Lahore should shock the nation’s conscience. Uzma’s body was discovered dumped in a drain in Iqbal Town and her family alleges that she was tortured and killed by her employers who then disposed of her in the drain to make her death seem accidental. It was only after public outrage that the police arrested the couple who employed Uzma. Charges are expected to be filed after a post-mortem examination is carried out.

Such cases reveal the wanton indifference the wealthy have to the lives of those who serve them. To begin with, it is cruel that someone as young as Uzma had to work for a living just because the state does not provide the poor with adequate income support. She should have still been in school, not catering to the whims of strangers for a wage that barely rises to subsistence level. Uzma did not deserve the life she was forced to lead and that she was forced into a work so hazardous it led to her death shows the cruelty of our society. A viral video which surfaced after her tragic end also shows the kind of depraved treatment she was put through, and the sort of physical abuse this young girl suffered.

Those cruel and callous employers who treat their employees as chattel should no doubt be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Just last year, 15-year-old Mohammad Imran was tortured and strangled to death by his employers in Karachi and 11-year-old Kinza Bashir was tortured in Rawalpindi. In 2017, 10-year-old Tayyaba had more than 20 torture marks on her body and her hand was burned on a stove. But the fact that such incidents keep happening shows that the problems go beyond individuals and are more structural. Child domestic workers are essentially unprotected under the law. In Punjab, the Domestic Workers Bill, 2018 criminalises employment of children under 15 but this law exists only on paper with no implementation. In the rest of the country, there is uncertainty over what age would even constitute a child since different laws contradict each other. The constitution only outrights bans child labour for those under 14 who work in factories, mines and other hazardous employments. While criminal law obviously covers murders such as that of Uzma it is long past time the state actively protected children forced into working as domestic labour rather than looking out for the interests of employers who are so heartless they think nothing of exploiting, starving and sometimes even killing those who serve them.

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