Children engaged in domestic labour remain deprived of their basic rights
he abuse of child domestic workers is a serious issue that needs to be addressed urgently. Child domestic workers, particularly girls, are often hired by families to work in their homes for long hours and little pay. These children are vulnerable to abuse, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation. Child domestic workers in Pakistan are often from marginalised communities, including those from rural areas and low-income families. They are brought to the cities by middle- and upper-class families who need cheap labour for household chores. Many of these children are not enrolled in school and are deprived of education, healthcare and other basic rights.
Search for Justice, an organisation working for the protection of children and their rights, has developed a documentary about child labour in Pakistan to raise awareness about the issue. The documentary, which was released in March 2021, advocates for law and policy reforms to protect children from exploitative working conditions. According to the UNICEF, about 3.3 million children are engaged in child labour in Pakistan. In some industries, such as the carpet weaving, children are estimated to make up 90 percent of the workforce – this in a country holding the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million 5-16 year-olds not attending school, constituting 44 percent of the age group’s population.
The abuse of child domestic workers is illegal. There are laws in place to protect children from such exploitation. However, these laws are not always enforced. The cultural acceptance of child labour as a means of earning money for families is a major challenge to overcome.
The minimum age for employment is 14 years as per labour laws in Pakistan, with some exceptions for children working in family businesses or in the entertainment industry. Children between the ages of 14 and 18 are only allowed to work in non-hazardous jobs for a limited number of hours per day. They are also entitled to minimum wage and other labour rights. However, there are no specific laws regulating domestic work, which means that domestic workers, including children, are often excluded from these protections.
Admittedly, there is no accurate figure for domestic worker employment in Pakistan. This lack of authentic data demonstrates the neglect of this labour group and their economic output. This has invited problems such as child labour, bonded labour, sexual exploitation and harassment, violence and deplorable working conditions. An additional district and sessions judge and his wife were prosecuted and convicted on charges of harming, neglecting and abandoning a juvenile housemaid employed at their residence.
There is a lack of regulation and oversight in the matter. Domestic workers are not covered by labour laws, which means that they are not entitled to minimum wages, social security or other benefits. In addition, there is no mechanism for enforcing labour laws in the informal sector, which means that employers can get away with exploiting their workers, including children.
The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) has provisions related to child labour. These include Section 371-A, which criminalises the employment of a child in any work that is likely to be hazardous to their health or development.
The Employment of Children Act, 1991, prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in any occupation. However, this law is not applicable to children employed in domestic work. Similarly, the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act, 2016, prohibits the employment of children under the age of 15 in hazardous work, including domestic work. However, this law only applies to the Punjab and is not applicable to the rest of the country.
The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) has provisions related to child labour, including Section 371-A, which criminalises the employment of a child in any work that is likely to be hazardous to their health or development. Section 374-A of the PPC criminalises the import or export of a person for the purpose of forced labour or prostitution.
Child domestic workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including physical and sexual, and are also at risk of trafficking as they are often recruited by middlemen who promise them work and then sell them to employers. Many child domestic workers work long hours, with no rest or breaks, and are not allowed to attend school or receive any education.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society have an important role to play in addressing the issue of child domestic labour. They can work to raise awareness about the issue, provide legal and social support to child domestic workers and their families and advocate for policy change at the national and local levels. Several NGOs in Karachi are working currently to protect the rights of child domestic workers, provide them with education and training and raise awareness about this issue. The Legal Rights Forum is a network of lawyers and legal professionals who work to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including child domestic workers. It provides legal aid and representation to child domestic workers and their families who have been victimised or exploited.
Recently, the Legal Rights Forum engaged with the Government of Sindh through various channels. They worked closely with the Labour Department to promote the implementation of labour laws related to child labour and the protection of the rights of child domestic workers. The LRF also collaborates with the Social Welfare Department to provide social and economic support to child domestic workers and their families. Furthermore, the LRF is engaging with lawmakers in the Sindh Assembly to advocate for laws and policies that protect the rights of child domestic workers. They have presented papers and briefings on the issue to members of the Sindh Assembly, stakeholders, prosecutors and lawyers. They have recently conducted a training for religious leaders on child protection and child domestic labour. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the provincial government to provide protection to child domestic workers as per the law.
The writer, an advocate of Sindh High Court, is a legal advisor for the Jang Group. He occasionally writes on legal and human rights issues. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org