Civil society in Karachi demands special courts to try child labour, abuse cases

KARACHI: A large number of people gathered in front of the Karachi Press Club on Friday to condemn the murder of nine-year-old housemaid Fatima in Ranipur.

They demanded that the government constitute special trial courts to keep a check on the growing violence against children and child labour.

Prominent among speakers were Zehra Khanof the Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), Riaz Abbasi of SITE Labour Forum, Saira Feroze of HBWWF, Khaliq Junejo of Jeay Sindh, Khalid Zadragn, Nuzhat Shireen of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, Aqib Hussain, Shahzad Mughal, Faiza Siddiqui, transgender activists and members of the Sub Rang organisation, including Kami Sid and Nisha Rao, textile garments general workers union leaders Himat Phulpoto and Iqbal Abro, and youth leaders Waqas Qureshi and Kashif Abbasi.

A large number of women, children, and members of civil society attended the protest that was led by Ms Khan and veteran labour leader Comrade Gul Rehman.

The protesters demanded that the laws against child labour be made more effective and strictly implemented.

They asked that Pir Asad Shah and other people involved in the rape murder of Fatima should be punished as per the law. Similarly, the woman involved in the forced labour and torture of Rizwana in the house of a judge in Islamabad should also be punished, and the judge involved in this case should be sacked.

They demanded safeguarding of the rights of domestic workers and proper laws to be enacted. These laws should be registered with the institutions of social security and pension. Speedy trial courts should be established for crimes such as child rape, torture, and forced labour. They said that forced labour should be declared a non-bailable offence.

They also asked for state lands to be distributed free of charge among the landless haris or peasants, in order to end poverty and deprivation.

They regretted that the police had failed to arrest the accused Hina Shah and Pir Shah in the Fatima murder case despite the expiry of their protective bails. They said that influential political and religious figures in the area are pressuring us to hush up this rape-murder case.

Journalists and social workers are also being threatened not to report on it. They demanded from the Sindh CM, Justice Maqbool Baqar, that he take immediate steps so that justice is served.

Speaking on the occasion, Zehra Khan said that domestic workers are treated as slaves in our society. They are deprived of all basic human rights. “There is inhumane treatment meted out to domestic workers, especially children. It shows the feudal tendencies of our society. Some people think that they are authorised to use the bodies of these children as if they were some kind of sweet wish,” she said.

She said that, as per an estimate, during the last few years, 96 female child domestic workers were raped and 44 murdered. And they were all less than 14 years old. She also pointed out that these figures were about reported cases; the unreported cases were higher.

Zehra said that the main reasons behind child labour in Pakistan are poverty, inflation, and very costly education. “Pakistan ranks second among the countries with the largest number of out-of-school children. There are 92 per cent children who are out of school in Sindh alone, and 60pc of them are female. Most of the out-of-school children work along with their parents,” she said.

She said the killers of Fatima of Ranipur belonged to the influential feudal Pir family, and they are pressuring the government to hush up this rape-murder case.

She said that this is a test case for the chief minister of Sindh Justice, Maqbool Baqar, and hoped that he would ensure that justice is doled out to Fatima’s family. She said that incidents such as the tragic murder of Fatima and torture on Rizwana demand that we take solid steps to stop child labour and torture of children.

NTUF’s general secretary, Nasir Mansoor, also said that the rape-murder of Fatima by a feudal Pir family in Ranipur and the brutal torture of a housemaid, Rizwana, in the house of a judge in Islamabad show the prevailing anti-child mentality of our society.

He said that the cruel treatment of houseworkers is like upholding slavery. “Although slavery ended in 1860, it still prevails in our society in the form of domestic workers in villages as well as cities. The majority of these domestic workers are children,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023

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