Child and Female Domestic Workers Subjected to Routine Exploitation in Pakistan 



By Fatima Chaudhary

In Pakistan paid domestic work is one of the oldest occupations of the informal economy and the number of young women and girls in domestic employment is persistently rising. Domestic work is the crucial but unseen labor done behind the closed doors of private homes. Its broad range of conditions collides with a lack of industry regulations, so the risk of exploitation is real in domestic work especially because it has been purposely excluded from various federal labor laws meant to protect workers from abuse. 

 Due to the gendered nature of domestic work, it has become an undervalued, unrecognized, and lowest-paid form of labor in Pakistan. As the country ranks among the worst-faring economies of the world where incomes are low and there are few employment opportunities for women, there is always an available pool of women and girl children who enter into domestic service.

Carrying out domestic work in other households is perceived to be a safe occupation for young girls, who are sent by their families to work as domestic workers to make ends meet. Young girls are denied the opportunity to receive education and skills needed for gainful future employment, thereby perpetuating a cycle of poverty in the family. Inadequate legislation in Pakistan poses a challenge to protect the rights of child domestic workers. Barring a few cities, the country has a strong system of social hierarchy, thereby pronouncing the discrimination faced by the girl child. She suffers exploitation, all forms of abuse, and discrimination on the basis of her gender as well as class. 

Has the state even tried to address the rights of domestic workers through legislation? Paid domestic service is not a part of the formal economy of Pakistan, thus there is no legal or political framework protecting workers. Sociological research conducted in this subject is very minimal,  neither are there any in-depth research studies carried out on the subject of young women or girls in domestic service in Pakistan. Informal work raises domestic workers’ chances of facing exploitation during employment in various forms. Because most of these female domestic workers come from poor backgrounds, they tend to be vulnerable and do not bargain for their rights, making their labor cheap. 

Horror Stories of Domestic Worker Abuse

In 2020 the painful case of Zahra, a domestic worker at a household in Rawalpindi where she was tortured for accidentally setting the employers parrots free came to light. The first information report, soon after eight year old Zahra was brought to the hospital said that she had injuries on her face, hands, below her rib cage and legs. The report stated that she also had wounds on her thighs which suggested that she might have been sexually assaulted.[1] Despite the shock and outrage expressed across Pakistan in social media and policy circles, in the aftermath of the torture and death of Zahra, similar cases of exploitation and torture of domestic help regularly surface. 

The horrifying case of child domestic worker nine-year-old Fatima Furiro, who was killed in her employer Pir Asad Shah Jilani’s Haveli, in Khairpur district’s Ranipur area confirms not just the common practice of child domestic workers, but their inhume treatment. Claims about her death transpiring as a result of torture came to the fore when videos of the girl bearing torture marks went viral. 

In March this year, A minor maid Ayesha (12) died of alleged torture committed by her landlord in Sargodha. According to the details, was working as a domestic help for the last two months with Jawwad Bhatti, the contractor of the Sial Mor Toll Plaza.When the family of the minor girl arrived at Bhatti’s house, they found their daughter’s body lying in a room. One of her hands was burnt while her body had torture marks.[2] Days before this incident, on Feb 25, another minor girl also named Ayesha Bibi (11) employed as a domestic help was tortured to death by her employer Fazalur Rehman and his two sisters  in Nemat Colony No 2 locality of Faisalabad.[3]

Local newspapers abound with innumerable cases of domestic help, especially minor girls being tortured by their employees. These cases are haunting reminders of the broader issue of child rights violations in the field of domestic work.  

Rising Sexual Harassment Against Female Domestic Workers

Female domestic worker (FDW) Sexual harassment is increasing in Pakistan. Women, especially girls who work as domestic workers in Pakistan have no fixed hours of work and neither do they have a fixed minimum wage in addition to that they have no access to government run schemes and privileges like old age and widow pension, free ration, free education for their children, maternity leave and fixed paid leaves. Employer‘s male family members and friends are known to assault FDWs. Rape, attempt rape and touching sexually sensitive body parts of the domestic workers are routine forms of sexual violence committed against them in Pakistan. 

Domestic work is a hope of employment for lots of poor young women and girls. Various factors are responsible for the pathetic conditions of women in the unorganised sector such as gender discrimination, poverty, lack of basic knowledge, ignorance of government, inadequate laws which are failing to prevent them. Moreover, the exploitation of the FDW especially girls, is increasing due to rapid expansion of this sector but no stakeholder has paid heed to the issues of these workers. 

If this profession is continued without any legal cover, it will pose serious questions on the credibility of Pakistan’s commitment to the international community of taking measures to empower women and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. 

A proposed Criminal Amendment (Prohibition of Child Domestic Labour) Bill 2024 aims to classify child domestic labor (CDL) as a non-com- poundable, non-bailable and cognisable offence. While the bill signals a crucial stride towards change, it must be complemented by holistic measures addressing the socio- economic factors that perpetuate CDL.

It is disheartening to witness the inconsistent responses from both families and law enforcement in the cases of child domestic workers facing exploitation, abuse, and even death. The conflicting accounts, along with reports of police silencing the victim’s relatives, highlight the complexity of addressing child rights violations within domestic work. These underage children are often left voiceless and unprotected. The brutal monsters who commit such acts should be put behind bars after thorough investigation. However, reactive measures are simply not enough and a proactive approach is necessary to prevent future tragedies.  Poverty, lack of education and societal attitudes contribute to the exploitation of children in domestic work. The system must be transformed through education initiatives, targeted support for families and stringent penalties for those who perpetrate abuse.

Fatima Chaudhary is a lecturer at a private university in Punjab province.

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles.   

[1] 8-year-old girl ‘beaten, killed’ by employers in Rawalpindi over setting free their parrots: FIR – Pakistan – DAWN.COM

[2] Minor maid dies of landlord’s torture – Newspaper – DAWN.COM

[3]  Minor girl ‘tortured to death’ by her employer, his sisters in Toba Tek Singh – Pakistan – DAWN.COM

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