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Law: Children in the House
12 February 2023
On January 26, 13-year-old Maryam was thrashed and burnt by her employers in Lahore. The child suffered severe injuries. Police said Maryam’s parents went to meet the girl but the employers were reluctant to let them meet their daughter. When the parents finally made their way inside the house, they found their daughter burnt and
The South Cantonment Police registered a case against the couple who had tormented
the girl — but the couple had already fled. Police said that teams had been formed to track down the perpetrators. Meanwhile, caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi visited Mayo Hospital to support Maryam and assured that no stone would be left unturned in providing proper treatment to the child.
But this incident is not a first — or seemingly last — of its kind. Such brutality has occurred many times before. On June 1st, 2020, seven-year-old domestic worker Zohra Shah was beaten to death by her employers in Rawalpindi.
In February 2019, the body of a 16-year-old Uzma was found dumped in one of Lahore’s
drains, after being tortured and killed by her employers.
In another famous case, minor Tayyaba was rescued from Judge Raja Khurram Ali Khan’s house in Islamabad on December 28, 2016. And one cannot forget Shazia Masih’s tragic and cruel murder in January 2010 in Lahore.
In July 2022, a qualitative study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) determined that one in every four households in Pakistan employs a child — predominantly girls aged 10 to 14 years — in domestic work. ILO estimates that over 264,000 children across Pakistan are employed as domestic workers.
“More than 140 cases of abuse, rape and murder of child domestic workers were reported in the media during the past 10 years,” reveals a report published in January 2020 — compiled by three civil society organisations (CSOs). The report further reveals that 96 children were raped and 44 murdered over the 10-year period. Seventy-nine percent of cases reported were from Punjab, 14 percent from Sindh, six percent from Islamabad and one percent from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Child domestic labour (CDL) is rampant throughout the country, because of which children are often gravely abused and exploited inside boundary walls that, more often than not, shield the abuse from scrutiny.
Most cases of this nature are not reported in the media, rather they are swept under the carpet. This can be due to several reasons, including child labour and child abuse becoming normalised in Pakistan — or in the case of sexual assault, to save face, given its taboo nature.
In order to avoid such cases and make progress on the protection of children in Pakistan, the first step the Government of Pakistan should take is to align domestic law with international commitments. Protection of children is enshrined in Article 19 and Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), ratified by Pakistan 30 years ago.
Article 19 reads, “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse…”
Article 32 further protects the child by prohibiting any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Moreover, in 2001, Pakistan ratified the ILO’s C182 — Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which recommends immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
CDL is recognised as modern slavery, which falls under the worst forms of labour. It further defines types of the ‘worst labour’ which, by virtue of its nature or circumstances, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. Despite being a party to this Convention, Pakistan has not recognised CDL as hazardous or the worst form of work in national law.
Pakistan continues to not only ignore its obligations to international conventions but flouts national laws.
Although Article 11 of the Constitution of Pakistan prohibits slavery and forced labour, child domestic labour is widespread. Due to a lack of seriousness on the part of federal and provincial governments, the issue of CDL has not gained attention in the legislative assemblies. CDL should be added in the schedule of banned occupations under the ‘Employment of Children Act 1991’ through official notification.
In Punjab, there is a list of hazardous jobs under ‘The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016’; but CDL is not included in hazardous working practices.
According to the Child Rights Movement, 60 children were killed by their employers in the last 10 years, while there were not as many deaths of children in any other hazardous industry. So, the recommendation from child rights activists, which advocates adding CDL to the list of hazardous occupations, is an evidence-based reform.
The ‘Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019’ bans CDL up to 15 years of age and allows work for children above 15 to 18 years. Data shows that children older than 15, especially girls, are abused massively in CDL. The government should not try to regulate slavery and the worst forms of child labour; it should be fully banned, as envisaged in our constitution.
The ‘Prohibition of Employment of Children Act 2015’ of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) states that “No child (under 14 years) shall be employed or permitted to work in any establishment.” Similarly, the ‘Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act 2017’ states that “No child (under 14) shall be employed or permitted to work in any establishment.”
However, various laws related to child labour are in blatant contradiction with the permitted age limits delineated by Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, which safeguards the right to free and compulsory education for all children up to 16 years.
Not only are the present laws inadequate, they also suffer from a lack of implementation.
Firstly, there is a need for stronger legislation, which clearly lays out rules, procedures, offences and punishments to discourage the practice of child labour. The process of formulating law on CDL should be consultative and encourage recommendations from CSOs. It should be inclusive and participatory, engaging with child domestic workers as agents of change.
Secondly, the state should work harder to improve safeguarding mechanisms and implement child protection policies to protect the children of Pakistan. Banning CDL will make the employers and parents realise that such child labour is against the law and deter participation in fear of legal repercussions. Authorities will be able to take action against offenders.
Thirdly, an extensive awareness campaign by civil society groups would help reduce the number of incidents by alerting communities about the consequences of employing innocent children and risking their lives.
It is not just the government’s duty to ensure the safety of the children of Pakistan. It is, in fact, the duty of each and every employer, parent and citizen to make sure that the children of this country can enjoy their rights with no exceptions.
A cultural understanding and sensitivity to children’s rights is certainly required. Our denial of children’s rights in general has contributed to their increased vulnerability to abuse.
Our silence in response to these brutal cases would indicate the moral decay of our
society and the inability of the state to fulfil its mandate under the Constitution.


© Labour Education Foundation