On 9th, February, 2017, SPARC in collaboration with ACILS conducted a seminar to ban child domestic labour. The event was held at Hill View Hotel, Islamabad. The event entailed a consultative session to finalize a position paper against child domestic labour in Pakistan. The panelists at the event included; Anees Jillani (Advocate Supreme Court & Founder of SPARC), Tahira Abdullah (human rights activist), Shamsun Nissa Memon (MNA Thattha), and Musarat Rafique (MNA Daddu). The event was chaired by Dr Attiya Inayatullah.
The seminar was held in the wake of rising cases of violence against domestic child servants. Currently, no comprehensive law protecting the rights of domestic workers exists, whereas child domestic labour is not specifically covered by existing child protection laws. Moreover, there are no precise statistics regarding child labour in Pakistan, as the last national child labour survey was conducted in 1996. However, various estimates place the number to around 3.4 million, which excludes the informal sector such as child domestic labour; which is thought to be grossly underreported.
The objective of the event was to prepare a comprehensive position paper with set policy objectives to push ahead the agenda to ban child domestic labour in Pakistan through lobbying and advocacy.
The Position Paper
The event was initiated by Farshad Iqbal (Research & Communications Officer, SPARC), who presented a 12 point position paper prepared by SPARC. This position paper was the starting point for the discussion that was to take place at the seminar. The main content of the 12 point position paper is given below.
- Since domestic workers are not covered by a comprehensive legislation and child domestic work is excluded from major pieces of legislation in the country; it is imperative that Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Bill should be enacted without any further delay; as it also addresses child domestic labor. Furthermore, the age bar in all the bills and existing laws should be raised to 16 years from 14 years, in line with Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan, to ensure children below 16 years of age are able to acquire education and not be left for labor and exploitation on behalf of domestic employers.
- The amendments in the existing or introduction of the new laws should include clauses tied to the concept of “parens patriae”, to ensure that children can be protected from violence, abuse and criminal negligence on behalf of parents as per Constitution and UNCRC.
- Under the Fedral law of ECA 1991, Child Domestic Labour should be listed as one of the hazardous establishment
- Balochistan Assembly must enact a law banning child labor, including child domestic labor.
- The Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill, 2017 must be enacted without any further delay.
- Employment contract for adolescent workers should be made mandatory for all forms of child labour.
- Existing child labor prohibition laws must be amended to specifically mention child domestic labor as prohibited to ensure that the exploitation of child domestic workers can be prevented.
- The government should take stern action against internal child trafficking as there are no structured laws in this regard.
- The implementation of the aforementioned laws should be ensured by the federal and provincial governments.
- The informal sector must be incorporated in existing child protection laws to clamp down on child labor and provide legal cover to children who may be at risk of being engaged in child labor in the informal sector, including domestic child labor.
- Robust Child Protection Units/Bureaus must be established in all provinces of Pakistan to provide adequate care for victims of violence, abuse and exploitation.
- Law enforcement officials should be comprehensively sensitized to avoid any possible child rights violations.
The position paper was followed by the screening of SPARC’s documentary on child domestic labour, title ‘I Have a Dream’. Following the documentary, Farshad Iqbal handed over proceedings to a student from Westminster School, Aminah Ijaz Khan to introduce the panelists, after which panelists gave their views on the topic under discussion.
Recommendations and Comments from Panelists
Anees Jillani: Mr Jillani called for much needed amendments in Employment of Children Act, 1991 and existing provincial laws by specifically mentioning ‘child domestic labour’ as one of the forms of hazardous labour environment. He also called for the enactment of new laws against child domestic labour and lamented the sorry state of children stuck in a life of drudgery in countless homes across the country.
He hoped that this is the last time he would need to address this issue and the phenomenon of child domestic labour will be resolved for good. He mentioned that the Constitution of Pakistan has over 700,000 words and the word ‘child is mentioned only twice. Pointing towards the lack of children’s rights addressed in the apex document itself. He urged people to think about the downtrodden and rise above their personal interests.
Highlighting the flaws in ECA, he pointed out that there are 38 occupations mentioned in ECA but child domestic labour is excluded, as well as agriculture and the non-formal sector in general. He proposed that a by sending out a notification, lawmakers can amend ECA and ban domestic child labour.
Tahira Abdullah: Human rights activist, Tahira Abdullah criticized lawmakers regarding their failure to implement Article 25A of the constitution of Pakistan, making free and compulsory education a reality for every child aged 5 to 16. She considered point no 2 of the position paper to be the most important, calling for the concept of parens patriae to be implemented; in order to ensure that children can be protected from exploitative, negligent, and abusive parents. Additionally, she criticized the difference in the marriage age of boys and girls under federal law, according to which the minimum marriage age of boys is 18 and for girls the age is set at 16 years (under federal law). She called this a great discrimination against girls. Furthermore, she criticized the 14 years’ age bar for allowing children to work (as per national and provincial laws).
Shamsun Nissa: Addressing the event, Shamsun Nissa, MNA Thattha, Sindh appreciated the recent endeavor by the Government of Sindh, which has passed the Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill and ensured that she will raise her voice regarding the absence of child domestic labour in existing provincial laws.
Sadia Hussain: Executive Director SPARC, Sadia Hussain expressed great concern at the alarming rate of cases of abuse surfacing against child domestic workers and called for a complete ban on hiring children as domestic help. She further assured the resolve of SPARC to push ahead the agenda of improving the state of child rights in Pakistan, including the intensification of efforts to ban child domestic labour.
She also announced the inauguration of SPARC’s 5th Street Children’s Center in Islamabad, on February, 21st, 2017.
Expressions of Children Engaged in Labour
Saradar Nadir Mahmood from Westminster School called children engaged in child labour on stage. These children had been invited to the event to highlight the issues associated with street children.
Haleema, a victim of child domestic abuse talked about the abuse she suffered as a domestic worker herself and claimed that she worked at the same house as Tayyaba, a child domestic worker who was recently found to be a victim of physical abuse by her employer. Haleema also claimed she knew Tayyaba and ran away from her employer due to the abusive conditions. She also said she knew Tayyaba and talked about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her employer.
Haleema spoke of her family’s reluctance to teach her and the issues she faced on the streets selling sweets. She said a man once tried to abduct her sister, whom she saved by throwing sand in the perpetrators eyes, as both sisters were able to elude the assailant. Haleema currently studies in a school. She was admitted to the school by Ms. Zeba.
Other children (engaged in child labour) at the event included; 11 year old Kamran, 13 years old Ijaz, and 16 year old Muhammad Nauman, both of whom wash cars, along with Debar who is a woodcutter. The children explained their plight and talked about how they were enrolled in school by Ms. Zeba, which has transformed their lives.
Sadia Hussain announced to appoint Haleema as the Child Advocacy Ambassador of SPARC.
The Q&A Session
The Q&A session garnered comments and questions instead of suggestions. However, the enthusiasm of participants was quite elated. It seemed that all essential points had already been discussed and people had little to add to the discussion by the time the Q&A sessions started.
Journalist Zubair Niazi urged SPARC to consider the importance of the census in gather much needed data regarding children. He asked SPARC to act as a pressure group to pressurize the government in conducting the census in such a manner that the questionnaire can be made more in-depth in ways by which the plight of children can be identified. Responding to the question Dr Attiya Inayatullah lamented that the survey forms for the census have already been completed, therefore no amendments are now possible to the existing survey forms.
Sadia Rafay from Dawn News called for the use of more strenuous language when highlighting children’s issues to have a more meaningful impact in general. She criticized Tahir Abdullah’s point of view that the Urdu vernacular lacks the ability to be harsh when expressing subjects like the children’s issues.
Mr Osama called for the reformation of the education system to eradicate alien literature and make the curriculum more ‘suitable’ for children.
Concluding Remarks by Chair
The Chair at the event, Dr Attiya Inayatullah appreciated the efforts of SPARC in highlighting the plight of child domestic workers and hoped the ongoing efforts of civil society organizations will bear fruit in curbing this phenomenon to emancipate children from one of this worst forms of child labour. She stressed the role of the media to highlight the social issue. She urged for a holistic and integrated approach to address children’s issues. She also spoke of the plight of mentally retarded children who are maltreated by their own family.
She pressed for the ownership of the community in all activities and plans that are to be initiated by the civil society so that meaningful results can be gained.
In her concluding remarks she spoke of the Domestic Workers Bill 2015, which has yet not lapsed. She called for its immediate enactment and recommended that the position paper should also include the ratification of ILO Conventions 189 (Domestic Workers Convention, 2011) and 139 (Occupational Cancer Convention, 1974), which Pakistan has not yet ratified.