Reports that a 10-year old girl was beaten to death in Lahore on the night of January 2 have a depressing ring of familiarity about them. In a society as poverty-stricken as Pakistan, child labour is, for many families, the norm rather than the exception. Child maids can be seen everywhere, many younger than 10, trailing behind wealthy families carrying their babies or shopping purchases. Countless others toil in often appalling conditions, little more than slavery, in households nationwide. They have no individual or collective voice and it is only when one of them dies, allegedly at the hands of their employer that their plight comes into the public domain. Even when it does, ‘influentials’ are able to evade due process by the application of pressure on those who would seek to prosecute their crime and often, they avoid the consequences of their cruelty.
In this instance, the police appear to have acted correctly thus far. The maid died on the way to hospital. Her body is said to have shown signs of physical abuse with signs of binding on her hands and feet. An autopsy is awaited. The police say that a woman, the employer’s wife, has confessed to beating the child to death with a plastic pipe after she was accused of stealing Rs30,000. The family of the woman is saying that she is mentally unstable and, therefore, not responsible for her actions. The police doubt this, seeing it as a ploy.
Whatever the truth of the matter, another child in domestic service has been killed under circumstances that are by no means uncommon. And, unfortunately and quite tragically, there will be other such cases in the future too. It is now for the police and the legal system to ensure that the matter is properly and thoroughly investigated, brought to court and the guilty punished. The dead child and her family deserve justice. The media have a part to play in that, and the fact that the case has made the front page of a leading newspaper, at least, means that her death does not go unnoticed.