The rescue of a 12-year-old maid who was allegedly beaten by her employer and had torture marks on her body calls our attention to the plight of domestic workers. Working in the house of a civil servant in Lahore, the child from Sargodha alleged that she was regularly beaten by her employer. In this latest example of an incident of violence against domestic workers, the 12-year-old was beaten with a steel hanger for snatching a book from her employer’s son. The Child Welfare and Protection Bureau rescued her. This incident brings to mind the case of Shazia Masih — the 12-year-old maid working in the home of a Lahore Bar advocate — who was evidently brutalised and died in mysterious circumstances.
Many of Pakistan’s child domestic servants work under debt bondage, toiling to pay off debts accrued by their parents. Disturbingly, Punjab has contributed more than its fair share to abuse cases but the rest of the country has not done much better either. The social currency for employing children for work in otherwise so-called enlightened, urban households underscores our callousness towards domestic help. Many are exploited and physically and sexually abused, but even those who aren’t face humiliation on a daily basis. A large proportion is female, indicating that domestic work reinforces existing gender inequalities and intensifies class divide. Unprotected by labour laws, these workers have neither a minimum wage, nor a limit on the workload their employers may place on them, and their collective bargaining position is weak. It is imperative that Pakistan ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189, which enhances the rights of domestic workers. We have to strengthen the position of our approximately eight million domestic workers since they form a significant chunk of the informal sector. Those of us who consider ourselves to be enlightened should ensure that we are not furthering the exploitation of an already downtrodden class.