LITTLE Tayyaba’s story illustrates some of the worst aspects of Pakistani society. In fact, the grim tale ticks all the boxes: the grinding poverty among swathes of the population, the smug sense of entitlement among the elite, and a system that perpetuates the status quo through incompetence or complicity.

The 10-year-old had been working as a domestic for a serving additional judge and his wife in Islamabad when she was recovered by police 24 hours after a neighbour complained that Tayyaba was being severely mistreated by the couple. Pictures that emerged of her in the media showed a battered, bruised and bloodied little girl, pathetic in her helplessness.

Although Tayyaba told the assistant commissioner she had been tortured by her employers, the law, instead of protecting the minor, has so far worked to the advantage of the alleged perpetrators. Pre-arrest bail was granted to the judge’s wife on charges filed by the police; Tayyaba’s parents came forward to claim that their daughter’s allegations were “baseless” and they were “forgiving [the couple] unconditionally” — a curious contradiction — after reaching a “settlement” with them.

Society fails Tayyaba, and millions like her, on multiple fronts every single day.

Firstly, there is the casual acceptance of child labour, at least in a ‘non-hazardous’ capacity. There is simply no moral justification for employing minors, not even as a ‘favour’ to their indigent families.

Secondly, while there are a number of laws pertaining to child labour in different sectors, many of them have loopholes that can be exploited. Moreover, there is no law specific to domestic workers in the country.

Third, the child protection laws in their present form also often end up putting abused children once again in harm’s way by returning them to their parents. For, difficult as this may be to accept, given it goes against our cultural ethos, parents do not always act in the best interests of their child. Sometimes dire circumstances compel them to put them in harm’s way in return for monetary gain. The state must create mechanisms empowered to intervene and rescue children from negligent or abusive legal guardians.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice of the case, given the egregious injustice manifest in it — even more so with the alleged perpetrator being an individual responsible for dispensing justice. A medical board has also been constituted to re-examine the child, who the police have yet to locate after she was handed over to her parents.

One hopes that justice will be done, despite the influential status of the suspects and their connections within law enforcement. Otherwise, Tayyaba will be just another little girl who has learnt a valuable life lesson that, not having been born among the privileged classes, her voice will never be heard in a system that serves the powerful and not the weak.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2017

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