Islamabad: The latest amendment approved by the cabinet has made it illegal to engage children as domestic labour in Islamabad signaling an end to the trauma and abuse faced by young domestic workers.
The new rule materialised largely in response to the outrage over the killing of an eight-year-old domestic worker, Zohra Shah, who was beaten to death by her employers in Islamabad for unintentionally freeing expensive birds from their cage.
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For the “first time child domestic labour [has been] proscribed in Pakistan” Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari shared the announcement on Twitter.
“Finally cabinet decision enforced [the rule] through Gazette notification. Child Domestic Labour [is now] proscribed under 1991 Child Employment Act valid for ICT. Provinces can adopt through a simple provincial assembly resolution the same way,” she said. In the absence of a proper law to protect domestic labour, the current measure is the quickest way to protect children, according to Dr. Mazari.
Welcoming the reform
The current amendment applies to Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) only but Dr. Mazari hopes the provinces would also follow suit. Experts also urged the provinces to introduce the measure at the local level to expand the legal protection offered to children and juveniles. While welcoming the reform, the child rights activists insisted that the law must be properly implemented and efficiently managed to protect children.
Pakistan’s Employment of Children Act 1991 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in unsafe and hazardous environments such as factories, carpet industries and mines – and it helped eliminate child labour in industries. The new legislation would specifically criminalize child domestic labour to protect those who work mostly in urban households, doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, caring for children among other errands. Domestic workers have been described as among the most exploited in the world.
Minister Mazari pushed for the amendment to declare domestic child labour perilous under the Employment of Children Act 1991 after the tragic death Shah. “Zohra died, but thousands of children who are facing similar threats can be saved now. We finally have a law to protect children working as domestic labour but proper implementation is the key,” says child rights activist, Dr. Anila Khan.