Lost children

Published August 19, 2023

PAKISTAN is a child rights nightmare. In three weeks, Fatima is the second victim of a twisted elite, bent on dehumanising the young by stripping them of their humanity. A domestic worker in the haveli of the pir of Ranipur, Khairpur district, the 10-year-old was allegedly raped and tortured; her parents were told to collect her body. Reportedly, Pir Asad Ali Shah Jeelani is in police custody and has stated that devotees often send their children to work at the haveli. The Sindh Human Rights Commission, having detected grave lacunae in the FIR, wants the inclusion of clauses of the applicable laws, the Ranipur police have made three more arrests, and a four-member medical board has been constituted to exhume Fatima’s body for autopsy. Meanwhile, an Islamabad businesswoman has also been arrested on similar grounds, ie, torturing her 13-year-old maid.

In 2004, the ILO assessed over 264,000 children were child workers in domestic settings across the country. Pakistan ratified the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which orders prompt, effective steps to thwart and proscribe the vilest types of child labour, and can also turn to Article 11 of the Constitution that “prohibits slavery and forced labour”. But the state of our needy children is more dismal now than ever. Clearly, an understanding of child rights is beyond necessary as its absence has led to mass exploitation and abuse. For this to penetrate a brutalised mindscape, justice has to be visible with fair trials of the accused so that culprits, regardless of social influence, are penalised, and legislation is aligned with international pledges. Also, measures such as ‘neighbourhood watch’, whereby signs of distress and child movement are monitored, will empower underprivileged communities in rural and urban areas. The fact that without the leaked video of Fatima’s abuse, her agony would be buried with her is reason enough for ‘child labour’ to become a forbidden practice.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

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