The Platform

Child labourers in Chakwal, Pakistan.

Domestic abuse remains an insidious pandemic, lurking in the heart of Pakistan.

Pakistan takes pride in its democratic label, yet 76 years post-independence, many of its people are still clawing their way to basic human rights and freedom of speech. While patriotic celebrations erupted across the nation, a sinister event unfolded in the shadows. On August 14th, Fatima, a 10-year-old domestic worker, was found dead in the sprawling residence of Asad Shah, a religious leader of some clout in Khairpur district’s Ranipur. Initially passed off as death from gastroenteritis, it soon became clear that Fatima had been the victim of abhorrent abuse and sexual assault.

Fatima’s mother discovered the girl’s bruised body at Shah’s mansion and confirmed what her daughter had long told her: that she was routinely beaten for minor infractions. Asad Shah and his wife, Syeda Hina, were implicated in numerous instances of torture. A gut-wrenching CCTV footage leaked on social media captures the grim reality: a vulnerable Fatima lying prone on the floor, while Shah lounges naked in bed. Another shows Shah dragging the child by her hair.

The ensuing media uproar led to Shah’s arrest, and a local police chief was suspended. But this singular act of justice only skims the surface of a deeper malaise. Domestic abuse remains an insidious pandemic, lurking in the heart of Pakistan. It reflects a collective social apathy, particularly egregious given that an estimated 8 million predominantly female domestic workers labor in Pakistani homes, often as the sole breadwinners for their impoverished families.

Abuse is woven into the social fabric, facilitated by entrenched feudal mindsets that view domestic workers as mere chattel. The constant barrage of slaps, beatings, and sexual abuse is seen as an unfortunate part of the job description. Frightened into silence by their influential employers, these workers find themselves trapped, invisible, and powerless, in part because there’s no mandatory registration of domestic employees.

So the question looms large: How much longer will Pakistan’s marginalized women and children suffer to put food on the table? When will the government recognize them as citizens deserving of basic rights? It’s high time we shed our apathy and demand strict legal repercussions for these feudal lords and corrupt elites. Legal reforms must dovetail with cultural shifts to truly transform working conditions. Domestic workers are not our property; they’re our sisters and mothers. Stringent actions against child labor, backed by heavy penalties, are overdue.

As citizens, we need to scrutinize our own behavior. Do we treat our domestic workers with dignity? Are we conscientious about their welfare and timely payment? Cultural shifts begin at home, and we must lead by example.

Legislation should be fast-tracked to create a robust legal framework that specifically addresses the rights of domestic workers, including mandatory employer registration and routine inspections focusing on wage fairness, working hours, and abuse. Special labor courts should prioritize abuse cases, and NGOs should offer legal aid to help domestic workers file complaints without fear.

But laws alone can’t rewrite societal attitudes entrenched in inequality. Long-term advocacy must go hand-in-hand with legal reform to challenge stereotypes and foster awareness. The media, as an omnipresent force, has the duty to shine a persistent light on abuse, shaping public consciousness for the better. Both government and civil society should spearhead educational initiatives to inform the next generation about the rights of domestic workers.

It’s time to break the silence and stand up for the basic human rights of these invisible members of society. Only then can we claim to be working toward a more equitable Pakistan.

Waleed Feroz is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Social Sciences at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan. His academic interests are centered on understanding the complex dynamics between nation states and their foreign policies. Specifically, his aim is to focus on geopolitics and social issues.