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November 9, 2018

Vulnerable at work


November 9, 2018

The killing of a 15-year-old domestic servant in the posh Clifton area of Karachi last week adds to the many stories we have heard over the last few years over the torture, abuse and violence directed against young domestic workers in the homes of the wealthy. In this case, the boy, who hailed from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had started work at the bungalow five months before the incident which police have termed a murder. We can assume that like many from KP, he was in search of income to help support his family. The incident is still being investigated. His employer had initially stated the boy had committed suicide. However, a hospital examination has stated he was strangulated to death, with the son of the owner along with two other domestic servants named for now as prime suspects. Police officials have said a full inquiry will be conducted. We certainly hope this happens.

Child labour remains completely untouched and unregulated. It is impossible to tell what they undergo behind the closed doors of the homes in which they are employed. In April this year, a former district and sessions judge and his wife were sentenced to three years in jail following the killing of a child servant who worked in her home as a maid. There have been other cases in the past with children occasionally saved by neighbours or others. However, there is simply no estimate of how many continue to suffer abuse without any knowledge of it passing beyond the walls of the homes where they work. More often than not, impoverished parents will accept money in order to drop charges against the powerful men and women who have tortured, beaten or killed their children.

There is a deeper social message behind these incidents. It appears we have created a society in which some lives matter less than those of others. There is however a desperate need to go beyond ‘outing’ employers who people believe are mistreating servants. Instead, a law is required to give domestic workers protection and regulate the number of hours they must work or the kind of duties they can be assigned. Such protections exist in other countries, where powerful unions of domestic workers ensure they are implemented. The government must work to put similar legislature in place in our country, where child labour in the informal centre abounds.

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