- Up to 264,000 children work in domestic service in Pakistan and, despite the increase in protests, the problem intensifies.
- Uzma Bibi, a 16-year-old maid, was tortured and killed in Lahore by her employer, who accused her of eating a piece of meat that was not her own: her case went viral on Twitter.
- Humaira recounts the type of abuse that happens indoors: “They hid me for days so that nobody could see me”.
Every night, after twelve hours of domestic work, Neelum, 11, and Pari, 13, leave a luxurious mansion surrounded by well-cut grass in the dazzling La Defense neighborhood in Karachi. They return to the accommodation of the servants and sleep on a thin mattress, full of termites and with the hunger that causes feeding on the remains of the food of others.
Behind glass doors that shine like mirrors in the richest neighborhood in the country, thousands of children work as servants. It is estimated that in all of Pakistan, up to 264,000 children would be working in the domestic service. Reports of abuse have become commonplace.
In January, Uzma Bibi, a 16-year-old maid, was tortured and killed in Lahore by her employer, who accused her of eating a piece of meat that was not her own. His case went viral on Twitter with the tag #justiceforUzma, which resulted in three people being arrested, the employer included. The three remain detained awaiting trial.
Being rich doesn’t allow you to snatch someone’s life. The inequitable manner of rich barbarians of the society is a black spot on our moral values as a whole.
Govt must take instant steps to counter these unlawful and brutal activities.
Sorriness 💔😐#JusticeForUzma pic.twitter.com/qqnoAyp8MT
— Saira Anwer (@SairaAnwer1) January 31, 2019
The same thing had happened in 2018, protests on social networks after the dissemination of the photographs of Tayyaba, a 10-year-old girl brutally beaten. He worked for a judge and his wife. The couple was acquitted for the blows but sentenced for refusal of help and sentenced to one year in jail.
Despite the increase in protests, activists report that the problem is intensifying. “The situation is getting worse,” says Ume Laila, executive director of HomeNet Pakistan, a human rights organization. “No one protects children in their jobs and unless a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of domestic employees is implemented, the situation will not improve,” he denounces. It is necessary to raise awareness and concrete measures, “he adds.
“The support that appears on social networks does not matter. On an issue like this, it does not translate into positive or substantive results in Pakistan,” adds child rights activist Fazela Gulrez. “The most that can be expected is a law passed in the midst of this uproar that fits well in the reports to the United Nations but does not change anything on the ground. The immediate reaction can be intense but it is still temporary. Actually, It doesn’t change anything, “he says.
One of the most important obstacles has to do with the fact that child labor is standardized in Pakistani society and passing stricter child protection laws do not interest the many who hire children as servants. “Not only the richest and most powerful hire children as servants,” Gulrez explains, but “it is a widespread reality among everyone who can afford it.”
“Many prefer to employ young people because they are easier to control and exploit. Poor families offer their children because they are guaranteed two meals and a roof. It is all that matters,” the activist adds. The Punjab Domestic Workers Law, passed this year 2019, does emphasize that child labor should be discouraged. However, his example is not repeated in other provinces.
“They hid me for days”
Humaira’s story is a paradigmatic case of the type of abuse that happens inside. Today, in her twenties, she remembers that when she was a child when her employers started working at home, they burned her and hid her so that nobody could see her. “At ten I had severe malnutrition. I could hardly take the children, who abused me normally, sometimes in words, sometimes physically,” he says.
He explains that parents, through positive reinforcements, encouraged the ‘playful’ behavior of their children. “Once, while playing with the children, they boiled me with boiling water and burned my body from the waist up. I could not walk. The patrons panicked but refused to take me to the hospital. They hid me for days and did not allow me to talk with anyone, “he says. In the end, a neighbor rescued Humaira offered medical assistance and returned her with her family.
Despite the risks, well documented, extreme poverty continues to make parents agree to send their children to these jobs. Agents travel the country, explain the benefits and make false offers about the care children will receive once they leave their homes.
Gulrez contextualizes: “They are homes marked by poverty, with more mouths to feed than food on the plate. I fear that parents want to send their children to work in other homes, even with minimum wages and despite the abuse they may suffer at the hands of their employers. ” In many cases, he adds, the alternative would be to abandon them on the streets to ask for alms, with the added risk of being hooked on drugs or recruited by criminal organizations.
Without adequate protection for workers, in cases of abuse, any opinion against it is silenced. The silence is bought. That is what happened in the case of Bano, a 13-year-old girl who worked in Bahria, a town in the Rahim Yar Khan region, in the center of the country. Her employer threw her out the window and broke her spine. I had no salvation. He died six months later. Instead of going to court, his father agreed to receive 300,000 rupees, less than 2,000 euros.
Activists against child labor do not believe that there will be any change in the near future. Neelum, 11, has resigned himself to his fate. “There was a time when I dreamed … Will I be the one who manages to change our lives? Can I become a pilot? But I have followed in my mother’s footsteps as a maasi [maid]. This has changed me forever. When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see the same person anymore, “he adds.