Eight-year-old maid's death spurs calls for child labour reform in Pakistan

A young girl sells face masks on a street in Rawalpindi on June 2, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Eight-year-old maid's death spurs calls for child labour reform in Pakistan

  • There are still about 12 million child workers in the country despite the practice being illegal
  • Country's human rights ministry has proposed classifying domestic work as a "hazardous occupation" for children

KARACHI: The brutal death of an eight-year-old maid has caused outrage in Pakistan, prompting the government to propose changes to legislation governing child labor.
Zohra Shah was taken to a hospital in Rawalpindi, in Punjab province, on May 31 with serious injuries, and she died soon afterwards. Police have arrested the girl’s employers, a couple, over her killing.
Following an outpouring of anger on social media about Shah’s death, the country’s human rights ministry said it would work to ensure her killers were brought to justice.
“We will have a better picture once the (police) investigation is complete,” Fauzia Chaudhry, a lawyer at the ministry, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“Once we know for sure, we will take action,” she said.
The minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari, tweeted on June 3 that the ministry had proposed amending a child labor law to classify domestic work as a “hazardous occupation.”
That would mean children could not legally be employed as maids or other household staff.
It is illegal for children to work in factories and other industries in Pakistan, but there are still about 12 million child workers in the country, said Sajjad Cheema, executive director of Pakistani NGO Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).
Many work as domestic staff in private homes, making it more difficult for authorities to detect.
Extreme poverty pushes many families to send their children to work, Chaudhry said.
“In Shah’s case, the parents were so poor they were reluctant to take their child’s body back to the village as they did not have enough money for the ambulance or funeral rites,” she said, adding that the government had arranged to cover the costs.
Rabiya Javeri Agha, federal secretary at the rights ministry, said contradictions within the country’s constitution about the legal age must be addressed in order to protect children from violence at the hand of employers.
“There needs to be legal and constitutional clarity on the age of the child,” she said, highlighting several sections of the country’s constitution and penal code that needed revisiting.
She highlighted the ministry’s role in amending a law to make “cruelty to a child” a penal offense, but said more remained to be done:
“Beyond legislation, however, there is an urgent need to change our culture of discipline through corporal punishments — both at home and in schools.”
The government lawyer, Chaudhry, drew a parallel between Shah’s death and a 2016 case involving a 10-year-old maid who was tortured by her employers, a judge and his wife.
After the human rights ministry took up the case, the judge was barred from legal practice. The three-year jail term imposed on him and his wife was later reduced to one year, however. (Reporting by Zofeen T. Ebrahim; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.


Pakistan to establish 18 markets on Afghanistan, Iran borders to boost trade, curb smuggling

Updated 18 September 2020

Pakistan to establish 18 markets on Afghanistan, Iran borders to boost trade, curb smuggling

  • Under the plan, the government will set up 12 markets along the border with Afghanistan and six along the Iran frontier
  • Prime minister approves setting up two border markets in Balochistan and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by February next year

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has decided to set up markets along its borders with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran to boost trade opportunities, foster peace and check smuggling, the commerce ministry said on Friday.
Main crossing point into Pakistan for both goods and people from Iran and Afghan also serve as major smuggling routes.
“The border markets will help create job opportunities and establish a peaceful relationship with the neighboring countries,” Aisha Humera Moriani, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, told Arab News.
Under the plan, the government is establishing 18 markets: 12 along the border with Afghanistan and six along the Iran frontier.
In a meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan approved setting up two border markets in Balochistan and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as a pilot project, to be functional by February next year.
Moriani said the markets would contribute to local development and help the government address “smuggling and boost legal trade across the border.”
Pakistan is fencing its borders with Afghanistan and Iran to check cross-border militancy, illegal movement of people and smuggling, which is a major source of income for people living along border towns and villages.
Sardar Shoukat Popalzai, President Balochistan Economic Forum, said the government should have built “common markets” along the Afghanistan and Iran borders with the mutual consent of the neighboring governments to maximize benefits for people on both sides of the borders.
“The government has not released a feasibility report, if there is any, of these markets as to how are they going to help the local population,” he told Arab News.
Popalzai said Balochistan border areas were sparsely populated and establishment of a few shopping terminals would “hardly make any difference in the lives of the people.”
He said cross-border smuggling was a major source of income for people living in the frontier areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so “this requires a lot more effort than mere setting up of markets to check this undocumented economy.”
Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the government should establish cold storages and warehouses in the border markets to boost the export of perishable and other items to the neighboring countries.
“The taxation system on the exports and imports of different items through the land routes should be well defined to encourage businessmen and locals to boost the legal trade with Afghanistan and Iran,” he said.