On 22 January 2010, Shazia Masih, a 12-year-old Pakistani girl employed as a domestic servant, was taken to the hospital in an unconscious state where she died shortly thereafter. According to the initial medical report Shazia’s body was covered with wounds, some caused by ‘blunt means’ and some caused by ‘a sharp edged weapon.’ Her employer, a prominent lawyer and former head of the Lahore Bar Association, Advocate Naeem Chaudhry, was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Various human rights organizations campaigned for justice in Shazia’s case, calling for immediate prosecution of her employer and justice for Shazia. A later medical report declared Shazia’s cause of death to be ‘septicemia due to acute or chronic inflammatory disease of lung.' Despite having kept Shazia in slave like conditions, withholding pay and not allowing her to see her parents, Advocate Chaudhry is currently out on bail. A middleman, Amanat Masih, who supplied Shazia and other impoverished girls to prosperous homes for domestic servitude, was arrested for a short period but also subsequently released on bail. Also, on 11 February 2010, Yasmin, a 15-year-old domestic servant, was allegedly burnt by her employers in Okara and died five days later in a hospital in Lahore. According to Yasmin’s father this was not the first instance of violence at the hands of her employers.
The cases of Shazia and Yasmin are only two examples of the abuse and exploitation suffered by girls who are trafficked into domestic servitude in Pakistan. Research shows that there are about 264,000 child domestic servants in Pakistan, most of whom are girls. According to the ILO these ‘invisible’ children, are trapped in their employers’ homes where they are given very little or no pay, are deprived of the chance to have a childhood or receive an education, and are at risk of being subjected to verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Pakistani labor laws neither outlaw domestic work as a harmful occupation for children nor regulate the domestic work sector to protect the rights of adults working in that field. Pakistan also lacks legislation addressing human trafficking within Pakistan’s borders (whether for labor or sexual servitude), and girls like Shazia continue to be trafficked into affluent homes without recourse.
The ILO has reported that across the globe, more girls under 16 are found in domestic servitude than any other form of work. Plan International estimates that over 100 million people globally, predominantly young women and girls, are working in this ‘least regulated and protected of sectors.’ UNICEF reports that millions of girls who work as domestic servants are especially vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking within and across borders. According to the ILO, trafficking in children both internally and cross border is prevalent in South Asia with a high incidence of domestic child trafficking.
Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 10 (3) of the ICESCR states that ‘children and young persons should be protected from economic and social exploitation’ and ‘their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law.’ It directs States Parties to set age limits below which the paid employment of child labor should be prohibited and punishable by law. Article 19 of the CRC requires States to protect children from all forms of exploitation and Article 32 states that States Parties should ‘recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing 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.’ It further directs States Parties to set a minimum age for admission to employment, regulation of employment hours and conditions as well as penalties to ensure enforcement. Pakistan is also a party to the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (No. 182), which requires States to prohibit for children any work ‘which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children’; and the ILO Minimum Age Convention (C138) which requires that countries set 15 years as a minimum age for admission to work and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors State compliance with CRC, in its examination of Pakistan’s report in October 2009 expressed concern at the high prevalence of child labor in Pakistan and at the ‘growing number of children trafficked internally, sometimes sold by their own parents or forced into marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.’ The Committee recommended that Pakistan ‘strengthen its efforts to eradicate child labour, particularly in its worst forms, by addressing the root causes of economic exploitation through poverty eradication and education’; ‘take all measures to ensure the protection of children from international and internal trafficking and sale’; and ‘strengthen national and regional strategies and programmes on the prevention and suppression of sale and trafficking.’
Domestic servitude, in which girls are often confined to their employers’ homes in slave-like conditions, work for long hours with minimal or very little pay and perform unsafe tasks, should be understood to fall under the category of hazardous work. However, Pakistan’s Employment of Children Act of 1991 which bans a number of occupations for children does not ban domestic work. Moreover, under international legal standards, most girls in domestic service would be considered victims of human trafficking, since they are clearly recruited, transported, transferred, harbored or received for the purposes of exploitation. Pakistani legislation falls short of these international standards and while the Pakistan Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (2002) addresses cross border trafficking, it does not apply to trafficking within Pakistan’s borders, including that of girls like Shazia who are supplied to affluent households for the purpose of exploitation.
Children’s rights and other human rights organizations, such as Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) and Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) have been campaigning to ban domestic work for children; to regulate the working hours, conditions and wages in the adult domestic work sector; for provisions against domestic trafficking to be included in the Pakistani trafficking legislation; and for administrative, social and educational measures to protect the rights of children and end their exploitation. Equality Now supports the efforts of these organizations to end the exploitation and abuse of girls and women in domestic servitude.
Please write to the Prime Minister, Speaker of National Assembly, Federal Minister for Labour and Manpower, Federal Minister for Human Rights and the Minister for Law and Justice asking them to ban domestic work for children; and to regulate the working hours, work conditions and wages in the domestic work sector to prevent the abuse and exploitation of adult domestic workers. Urge them to take administrative, social and educational measures to protect the rights of children and end their exploitation. In addition please urge them to ensure that the trafficking legislation addresses domestic trafficking within Pakistan and protects children who are trafficked into domestic servitude. TAKE ACTION!
Letters should go to:
HE Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani
Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
The Prime Minister’s Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 922 1596
Tel: +92 51 920 6111
Dr. Fehmida Mirza
Speaker, National Assembly of Pakistan
Fax: +92 51 922 1106
Tel: +92 51 922 1082/83
Mr. Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah
Federal Minister for Labour and Manpower
27, Minister’s Enclave
Fax: +92 51 920 3462
Tel: +92 51 921 3686
Mr. Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani
Federal Minister for Human Rights
3rd Floor, Old USAID Building
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/1
Fax: +92 51 924 4542
Tel: +92 51 924 4526
Dr. Zaheeruddin Babar Awan
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs