Once again there are reports of maids, one as young as 10, being physically abused and sometimes murdered by their employers. The majority emanates from Punjab but the spread of abuse is countrywide. Those doing the abusing and killing, to judge by the location of their houses, are from what are laughably called ‘the elite class’; but it is not limited to those who are rich but barbaric. Maids can expect to be abused if their employer is a family of even modest means. The police in Lahore say that in four cases of maids being tortured, three of them subsequently died. It is difficult to imagine the severity of the injuries that would lead to death, but there is a mounting body of evidence that physical torture features in the miserable lives of many maids.
Such abuses are not new, but what is new is that they are reaching the eyes and ears of a wider public as the media is more willing to take up well-documented cases of abuse, and civil society organisations are more effective at keeping these grim events in the public domain. Even the police appear to be more willing than was historically the case to register cases and prosecute those who kill and maim even if they do belong to ‘the elite class’. There is a perceptible erosion of the culture of impunity, that at least in the capital area will be bolstered by the recent enactment of a bill designed to protect domestic workers rights. The provinces have yet to follow suit in terms of the protection of some of the most vulnerable in our society. Whilst legislation is laudable, it is a change in the national mindset that is most urgently needed, particularly in respect of the employment of children and very young girls in homes everywhere. The curse of child labour is all around us, from the slaves in brick kilns to the children who sew footballs. Pakistan needs to re-swing its moral compass and treat its children as something other than portable property.