‘Battered and broken’: Rizwana’s wounds cast light on child labor in Pakistan

The undated blurred photo shows child abuse victim Rizwana undergoing treatment at Lahore’s General Hospital. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 16 August 2023

‘Battered and broken’: Rizwana’s wounds cast light on child labor in Pakistan

  • Wife of civil judge arrested over accusations she tortured 14-year-old maid in case that has unleashed widespread calls for justice
  • Rizwana is admitted at Lahore’s General Hospital with sepsis, broken bones and wounds all over her body, needs multiple surgeries

LAHORE: Fourteen-year-old Rizwana was brought to a hospital in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on July 24 with multiple head injuries, open wounds and broken bones across her body, and sepsis, a deadly immune response triggered by infection. She was unable to breathe on her own, or eat and speak.

Her family says the girl's condition was the culmination of six months of abuse and torture she was subjected to at the home of a civil judge in Islamabad where she worked as a maid, earning Rs10,000 ($34) a month. The case, for weeks the subject of outraged news headlines, has put the spotlight on Pakistan’s child labor and trafficking practices, often considered symptoms of poverty, with desperately poor families selling their children for work.

Child labor was banned in Pakistan in 2020 and it is illegal for children to work in factories and other industries. However, there are still about 12 million child workers in the country, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). Many come from Pakistan’s poorest regions, either through middlemen, shadowy job placement agencies or by kidnapping, and work as domestic staff in private homes where monitoring working conditions or detecting abuse is difficult for authorities. Public attitudes towards child labor are also usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.

But Rizwana’s case has captured the public imagination and unleashed widespread cries for justice. The main suspect, Somia Asism, the wife of civil judge Asim Hafeez, was arrested this week after initially getting bail.

Rizwana, meanwhile, was shifted from the ICU to a private ward on August 8, her ordeal far from over.

“This was the first time I started to believe that the likes of us can get justice as well,” Rizwana’s mother, Shameem Bibi, told Arab News at the Lahore General Hospital. “The poor are not human at all. Nobody treats us like human beings.”

Bibi, who has nine other children and whose husband is a daily wage laborer, said Asim had contacted her multiple times since the police complaint was registered, offering huge sums of money to drop the charges. 

Lawyers for Asim, who has pleaded innocence, could not be reached for comment despite several attempts. 

“She said, ‘You are never going to win even if you keep going [to courts] for the next twenty years, so take the money’,” Bibi said. “But I didn’t want money, I want justice for my daughter.”

The horrors Rizwana recalls are unspeakable, including being starved for five days in a row and her head being repeatedly beaten against the floor, apparently as punishment for behaviour that displeased her employers.

The mother said when she first saw Rizwana in Islamabad at the bus stop where Asim had come to hand her back to her family, she was missing teeth and her head was bandaged. Her face, covered in wounds and smashed in, was “difficult even to look at,” Bibi said.

At the time, the family did not know that an infection was slowly spreading through the girl's body because of untreated wounds all over her body.


A 12-member medical board led by Dr. Jodat Saleem, a renowned professor of anesthesia, ICU and pain management, was constituted last month to devise a treatment and recovery plan for Rizwana at Lahore’s General Hospital, with two plastic surgeons recently added to help with reconstructive surgery.

“There are signs of prolonged periods of torture, old wounds that were never allowed to heal,” Dr Saleem told Arab News, saying the child was subjected to “forced malnutrition” because of which her body stopped producing white blood cells and platelets, severely weakening her immune system.

Weeks-old fractures on her arms, legs and nasal bone and a wound on her back, among various other injuries, had nor been treated, leading to the development of an infection that spread to the child’s lungs and heart.

“The heart is better, but the lung problem continues, which is why we will need intermittent oxygen support,” Dr Saleem said.

A nasal bone fracture, a skull fracture, and torn lips also needed intervention:

“We had to close the wounds on her face first … Today [Wednesday] we are going to clean the head and back wounds, and she will undergo a second surgery.”

The “parameters of infection” were improving, the professor added, but Rizwana would likely need six reconstructive surgeries. Her immunity, he said, was “extremely compromised,” which made it very difficult to provide a timeline for her recovery process.

Lahore-based lawyer Faisal Jatt, who is representing Rizwana’s family, said CCTV footage of Asim putting the girl in her car to drive her to a bus station in Islamabad as well as of Rizwana waiting for her mother at the station on July 23, clearly showed her trauma.

“You can clearly see the bandages, signs of injuries, the child was unable to walk to the bus, the bus driver had to carry her in,” Jatt said.

Rizwana’s father Manga Khan said she was “battered and broken” when the family picked her up from the bus station.

“Her legs and arms were broken, her head was damaged, the skin on her head was torn,” he said. 

The girl’s face had been covered with a cloth when the car dropped her off.

“When my wife removed the cloth and saw [her face], it was in a bad state.”


Rizwana’s case, however harrowing, is hardly unique.

The brutal death of eight-year-old maid Zohra Shah in 2020 also caused outrage in Pakistan, prompting the government to change legislation governing child labor and ban the practice. In another case, a 10-year-old maid was tortured by her employers, a judge and his wife, in 2016 in a much-publicized case that saw the judge barred from legal practice. The three-year jail term imposed on him and his wife was later reduced to one year, however.

Perhaps the most publicized case of child labor in Pakistan was Iqbal Masih, sold by his parents at age 4 and shackled to a carpet loom for almost six years, earning one rupee a day. When Masih escaped, he owed his boss 13,000 rupees and went on to win international acclaim for highlighting the horrors of child labor in Pakistan. He was shot dead when he was 12 after receiving several death threats from people in the carpet industry angered by his comments about child labor.

Doctors and social workers said they hoped Rizwana would have a better future.

“We are making a long-term rehabilitation plan for her,” Dr Al Fareed Zafar, another senior doctor treating Rizwana, told reporters this week. “We need to give her education, teach her some skills so that she can go on and live her own life, a better life.”

Ehtsham Arshad, an officer with Punjab’s Child Protection and Welfare Bureau which has legal custody of Rizwana until she is discharged from hospital, said she would have to undergo trauma counseling and therapy. The plan was to move her to a district office in Faisalabad for mental and physical rehabilitation, then to Sargodha, her hometown, where the government would pay for her education.

The Bureau has rescued 78,753 children from abuse, exploitation, and being driven to the streets without a legal guardian since it was established in 2005.

“Each month we see around 200-300 children in need of rescue in Lahore alone, half of these cases involve child labor abuse,” Arshad said. “This [Rizwana's] is a very publicized but unfortunately not a rare case of violence against child laborers.”

Still, the girl's mother is adamant she will get justice for her daughter.

“God is with the poor,” Bibi said. “My god Inshallah will help me. She [Asim] will be punished.”

Jofra Archer stars as England beat Pakistan in second T20

Updated 25 May 2024

Jofra Archer stars as England beat Pakistan in second T20

  • Skipper Jos Buttler, who smashed 84 off 51 balls, was the star of the England batting
  • Babar Azam praises Pakistani bowlers but says that the team could not finish well

BIRMINGHAM: Jofra Archer claimed two wickets on his long-awaited return to international cricket as England beat Pakistan by 23 runs at Edgbaston to move 1-0 up in the four-match T20 series.
England captain Jos Buttler won man-of-the-match after he smashed 84 off 51 balls to set the hosts a target of 184.
But it was Archer’s return that caught the eye as he made a case for selection in next month’s T20 World Cup in the United States and West Indies no harm.
The fast bowler has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
On his first international appearance for 14 months, and first on home soil since 2020, Archer bounced back from an expensive first over, which went for 15 runs, to finish with two for 28.
“I thought Jofra Archer was brilliant,” said Buttler. “You could see his emotion taking wickets for England again but we need to temper those expectations because he’s not going to be the same straight away.
“I’m really pleased with the whole bowling group.”
Muhammad Rizwan was removed in the first over by Moeen Ali and Reece Topley took three wickets for 41.
Buttler was the star of the England batting with three sixes and eight fours.
He was ably supported by 37 from Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow’s 21 but England failed to build on the platform given to them by their skipper.
Five wickets fell for just 25 runs as Pakistan battled back with Shaheen Shah Afridi the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-36.
“We got them to a par score, our bowlers bowled very well and we had our moments when we were batting,” said Pakistan captain Babar Azam.
Fakhar Zaman’s 45 from 21 balls gave the Pakistan chase some impetus, but after he departed the pace of Archer, Topley and Chris Jordan ripped through the tourists’ tail with four balls to spare.
“We didn’t finish well. We had a small partnership, myself and Fakhar but we didn’t get any other 40 or 50 partnerships that England did,” added Azam.
England lead the four-match series 1-0 after the first match was washed out on Wednesday.

Pakistan’s investment body to set up six country-specific desks, including one for Saudi Arabia

Updated 6 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan’s investment body to set up six country-specific desks, including one for Saudi Arabia

  • SIFC reviews progress related to trade and investment with friendly nations in a meeting presided by PM Sharif
  • The meeting also evaluates progress on the privatization of state-owned entities, instructs timely implementation

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif instructed Pakistan’s top investment facilitation body to set up six country- and region-specific desks, including one solely focused on Saudi Arabia, while presiding over a meeting on Saturday that concentrated on progress related to economic collaboration with friendly nations.
Last year, the country established the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid body designed to oversee foreign financing, to help overcome its prolonged economic turmoil that has forced successive administrations to seek financial assistance from global lenders and close allies.
Pakistani officials have primarily focused on Gulf countries since the inception of SIFC, briefing governments and businesses about investment opportunities available across various economic sectors in their country, including areas like agriculture, mining and information technology.
Following the announcement of a $10 billion investment from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during Sharif’s daylong visit to Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Pakistan expects to receive substantial investments from the region.
“The prime minister has announced that the SIFC will have a China desk, a UAE desk, a Saudi desk, a Qatar desk, a European Union desk and a United States of America desk,” Federal Minister for Information Attaullah Tarar told the media after the meeting.
“The prime minister has formally announced these six desks to promote trade and investment,” he added. “It was a historic meeting whose fruits will become visible in the coming days.”
An official statement issued after the meeting said the SIFC appreciated the recent upsurge in trade and investment related engagements under government-to-government and business-to-business frameworks, directing concerned ministries for efficient follow-ups.
It instructed the participants to make every effort to transform the commitments received from friendly countries into tangible projects and economic dividends at a fast pace.
The meeting reviewed progress on the privatization of state-owned enterprises, expressing satisfaction over the ongoing process and urging the timely accomplishment of various milestones in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

Updated 25 May 2024

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

  • Saira Peter says she is privileged to contribute her voice to British government’s public events, citizenship ceremonies
  • She also recorded ‘God Save the Queen’ in 2018 and received acknowledgement and gratitude of Queen Elizabeth II

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani Sufi Opera singer, Saira Peter, announced in a video message circulated on Saturday she received a letter of appreciation from Buckingham Palace for recording the British national anthem, “God Save the King,” following the coronation of King Charles III.
The British king’s coronation took place last May at Westminster Abbey in London. The event brought leaders and high-profile personalities from around the world and marked his official accession to the throne after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
Upon receiving the recording, performed in the soprano vocal range, the highest of the female voice types in classical singing, the king sent Peter a letter conveying his good wishes and sincere thanks for her public services.
She also received a signed photo card from him and Queen Camilla.
“I want to share with all my followers how excited I am to receive a letter and card of appreciation and gratitude from His Majesty King Charles the Third,” Peter said in the video, where she mentioned she was Pakistan’s first opera singer. “This arrived in response to my civic service of recording the British national anthem, ‘God Save the King.’”
“Being British-Pakistani, I feel so privileged to contribute my skill and voice to the British government’s public events and citizenship ceremonies,” she added.
Peter informed the British national anthem was recorded at the request of UK Government offices at Hastings Town Hall in East Sussex. The recording is now used across her adopted country for official government events.
Previously, she recorded “God Save the Queen” in 2018, making her the first Asian and the only Pakistani officially invited to undertake the task. Peter also received acknowledgment and gratitude from the late queen.
Born in Karachi, the opera singer told Arab News during her visit to Pakistan last year she used to sing in church choirs and began her Western classical journey, learning from Paul Knight, a disciple of Benjamin Britten, in London in the early 2000s after her family moved there.
Peter’s father, Zafar Francis, pioneered the Noor Jehan Arts Center in London, which was opened by British superstar Sir Cliff Richard in 1998.
She is the director of the performing arts center and teaches both Western and Pakistani classical music there.
She said her work in Britain was projecting “a positive image of Pakistan.”

Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

Updated 25 May 2024

Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

  • Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls, but his team failed to build on that and lost 5 wickets for 25 runs
  • Shaheen Shah Afridi took 3-36, as Pakistan try to build on their 2-1 win against Ireland this month

BIRMINGHAM: England captain Jos Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls as the hosts set Pakistan a target of 184 to win the second T20 international at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Buttler was ably supported by 37 from Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow’s 21 but England failed to build on the platform given to them by their skipper.
England were 144-2 with five overs to spare before Bairstow departed.
But five wickets fell for just 25 runs as Pakistan battled back to give the tourists a chance of chasing down the target.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-36.
Jofra Archer will form part of the England bowling attack in his first home international appearance since 2020.
Fast bowler Archer has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
However, the 29-year-old’s return could be a timely boost ahead of the T20 World Cup in the United States next month.
“Excited for Jofra, long road for him but looks great and looks fit,” Buttler said before the match.
Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan have been included for Pakistan, who are looking to build on a 2-1 series win over Ireland earlier this month.
The first T20 of the four-match series was washed out on Wednesday.
England: 1 Jos Buttler (capt/wk), 2 Phil Salt, 3 Will Jacks, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Liam Livingstone, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
Pakistan: 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Saim Ayub, 3 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 4 Fakhar Zaman, 5 Shadab Khan, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Iftikhar Ahmed, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Mohammad Amir

Mob attack on Christians leaves man in critical condition, spurs calls to end ‘vigilante justice’ in Pakistan

Updated 43 min 32 sec ago

Mob attack on Christians leaves man in critical condition, spurs calls to end ‘vigilante justice’ in Pakistan

  • Incident occurred in Sargodha where people accused their Christian neighbor of desecrating the Holy Qur’an
  • Police say they rescued 10 members of two Christian families in the area and transported them to a safe place

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province dispersed a furious mob that targeted members of the Christian community on Saturday, leaving one man in critical condition following allegations of desecration of the Muslim scripture, as civil society activists called for an end to “vigilante justice” in the country.
The incident occurred in Sargodha district after some people accused their Christian neighbor of defiling the pages of the Holy Qur’an. The house and a small shoemaking factory owned and operated by the man were burned down in the ensuing rampage, which was followed by police action that led to clashes with the angry protesters.
The incident came within a year after another attack on the Christian community in August last year, when a mob in Jaranwala city burned churches and targeted several houses in a similar incident involving blasphemy allegations.
Speaking to Arab News over the phone, police official Inspector Azar Nadeem confirmed the incident and said the situation was now under control.
“A man named Nazir Masih was injured by the violent mob and is currently in a hospital in critical condition,” he said.
“The police have rescued 10 members of two Christian families in the area who were accused of blasphemy and transported them to a safe place,” he continued. “The police have also arrested 15 people from the area for their involvement in the incident and for pelting stones at the police officials after our teams reached the spot.”
Nadeem informed police contingents had been deployed across the city after the situation was pacified to keep things under control.
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to mob lynchings.
Reacting to the development, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice, said such incidents must be brought to an end.
“The Sargodha incident is yet another example of vigilante justice in our society that needs to be discouraged at all levels,” he told Arab News.
“Five extrajudicial killings were reported last year in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, and 552 people were accused of blasphemy only in Punjab last year,” he continued, adding that 94 people had been killed since 1994 across the country by violent mobs following blasphemy allegations.
“There is an urgent need to constitute a commission of inquiry to review the blasphemy laws and recurrent incidents, and parliament should play a role in stopping this madness through mass awareness campaigns,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Christian community in Karachi held a protest demonstration in front of the city’s press club, demanding an inquiry into the incident and expressing their concern over the mob attack.
“As a 27-year-old Pakistani Christian who has never been abroad since the day I was born to the moment I’m standing here, I and every Christian who calls themselves Pakistani live under fear, under pressure and under the constant threat of being, God forbid, accused of committing blasphemy,” Luke Victor, a rights activist and one of the organizers of the Karachi demonstration, told Arab News.
“This is not the first incident, as we saw last year in Jaranwala, which I believe is the world’s largest such incident in which 28 churches and over 100 Christian houses were burned in a single day,” he continued, adding that what had happened in Sargodha was an “extension of what has been happening in Punjab and across Pakistan for the past several years and decades.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also voiced concern over the safety of the Christian community in Sargodha following the mob violence.

So far, neither the federal nor the Punjab administration has issued a statement about the incident..