On the occasion of ‘World Day against Child Labour’, it’s pertinent to carry out some self-introspection on Pakistani society’s attitude towards domestic help and whether its existence is justified in its current form.
On the one hand, many say it’s idealistic to assume that children in Pakistan should not work before a certain age, considering that many families need them to start earning so that they provide the financial support they desperately need.
On the other hand, the circumstances they are in because of which they are forced to work as disturbing, and need to be addressed. Poverty does not exist by default, it is the result of inequalities which results in massive income gaps across national and global populations.
Specifically, children who are domestic ‘servants’ (a very common phenomenon in high-income and middle-income families in Pakistan) are in an extremely vulnerable position.
According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report released on World Day against Child Labour, domestic work is not recognised as child labour in many countries. These children are not treated as family even though they are part of a family setting.
This much is obvious for those who live in Pakistan. In most homes that employs children, or anyone else for that matter, it is taken for granted that the child ‘‘servants” will not eat from the same utensils, or live in the same space.
Since they are not treated as family and do not have access to the same kind of care that is granted within a family, it opens the way to exploitation, but such youngsters are difficult to protect because they can be hidden from the public eye, the report said.
Child domestic help is also more subject to abuse, whether physical, sexual or mental.
Even though Pakistan has ratified ILO Convention 182 (in which the definition of child labour includes child domestic work), its implementation remains to be seen. Horrific stories of the torture of young child workers crop up from time to time.
In these circumstances, how do you think child labour, with specific relation to domestic ‘servants’, can be eliminated? In a country like Pakistan, where domestic help is taken for granted by the elite, in what way can one ensure that very young children are not taken up as domestic workers and that adolescents workers are being paid minimum wage at the very least (which they usually are not)? Legal conventions may be in place, but how does one ensure they are executed?
Dawn.com invites its readers to share its views.