LAST year, public outrage over the abusive treatment meted out to 10-year-old Tayyaba, a young domestic worker in Islamabad, shone a light on the deep recesses of child labour in this country. The young girl suffered bruises, wounds and burns to her body while employed as domestic help by an additional judge. It was when the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of her plight that the case was investigated. On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court convicting both accused — the additional judge and his wife — ruled they were guilty of “wilfully harm[ing]” a child under their watch. They were given one year in prison and a fine of Rs50,000 each as punishment. However, it was disappointing that they were granted bail almost immediately after the verdict — especially because an innocent child was the victim of violence. Given a 21-page judgement describing Tayyaba’s injuries, medical reports to corroborate the same and witness statements confirming mistreatment, such reprieve raises questions about the state’s resolve to safeguard child rights. Nevertheless, the verdict sets a sound precedent — especially since one of the perpetrators is an additional judge who is duty-bound to administer justice but clearly embodies what is the epitome of societal callousness towards those who are marginalised and entrenched in poverty.
Because child labour often traps the most marginalised in society, the practice of employing domestic workers does not preclude sourcing help from children whose young years are mercilessly stolen from them. Correcting this requires combating illiteracy and poverty in the long term. One way forward is by incentivising education and also imparting vocational training to allow young people to learn a trade. Meanwhile, despite a plethora of child labour laws and child protection legislation, underage workers are abused and exploited because legislative implementation is ineffectual for the most part. This makes it all the more necessary to protect children, women and other vulnerable groups, especially when continued progress on our human rights record should take precedence.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018