July 31, 2023

By Maryam Missal


Condemning the alleged physical torture of a 14-year-old domestic labourer at the hands of a civil judge and his wife in Islamabad, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Sunday called on the government to criminalise child labour. The Commission also stated that the extent of violence that the minor bore is reprehensible.

The initial first information report (FIR) registered against Somia Asim, who is the wife of a civil judge and the prime accused in the case, included provisions for criminal intimidation and confinement of a minor. Relevant offences such as physical torture and the employment of a minor were notably missing from the complaint filed on behalf of the girl’s father.

However, after considerable backlash, offences for attempt to commit qatl-i-amd (murder), abandonment of a child, and intentional hurt to face or head were added to the FIR.

“The irony that her employers were a civil judge and his wife should be lost on no one. The fact that a more robust FIR was not lodged in the first instance and that the accused was granted protective bail in all likelihood on account of her influence, reflect a system that is rigged invariably against the most vulnerable,” the HRCP’s statement read.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on July 27 granted Somia Asim protective bail till August 1. The counsel of the accused implored to the court that the petitioner was eager to prove her innocence but feared arrest, and therefore required protective bail.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), while talking to Voicepk.net said that what happened to the girl is inexcusable, and that she is suffering from extreme physical and mental damage.

“Having witnessed [the condition of the girl] myself, I can assure you that what happened to her did not appear to be the doing of a human being,” Farooq said while describing the severity of the torture. She also emphasised that the initial FIR for the crime was weak and did not include the proper offences, but it was nevertheless updated as a result of criticism from civil society.

In Farooq’s opinion, the FIR should have been accurate from the beginning in order to prevent the case from being flimsy.

In its statement, the HRCP further held that “The state must prevent and respond to all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and violence against children. The state must also adopt and implement a national strategy to prevent and protect children from violence, and apply judicial systems that pursue the best interests of the child.”

Referring to the initial FIR, Farooq called it ‘a mockery of the justice system’ due to the uncertainty of punishment. She also told Voicepk.net that the NCRC is poised to draft a proposal for amendments in the relevant labour laws to curb domestic child labour. Through the proposed advisory, the NCRC aims to revise the legal age for labour from 16 years to 18 years and clarify the parameters of domestic child labour.

The Senator also stated that the draft will propose that a school-going minor engaging in activities suitable for their age outside the home and/or visiting a workplace with their parents or guardian will be exempted from the category of ‘domestic child labour’.

Exploring the dimensions of illegal domestic child labour in accordance with the proposed advisory, Farooq said if a child is abandoned at a workplace and is expected to earn without attending school or engaging in any activities suitable for his age, it shall be illegal.

However, HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique asserted that no amendment will be able to fix the problem. Rather, the introduction of new laws and access to justice are the need of the hour. He held that the state is responsible for the growth and protection of children in the first place.

Regarding the potential impact the accused husband might have on the outcome of the case, Khalique stated, “Justice should not be affected by a judge’s influence and the law should not be different for different classes.”

Child labour laws in Pakistan

The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 raises the minimum age to 15 years from 14 years under Article 11 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan. In accordance with the Act, an occupier—defined as anyone who directly or indirectly employs a worker in an establishment—may not hire a child or permit a child to work at the establishment, nor may they permit a minor—defined as a person who has reached the age of 15 but is under 18—to engage in hazardous work there.

According to the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019, which deals with the ban on employment, no child under the age of 15 may work in a household in any capacity. Additionally, it states that domestic labour for households that include only light labour shall be performed by domestic workers under the age of 18, however no child under the age of 15 can be employed in a household in any capacity.

In July 2021, the Senate introduced the Islamabad Capital Territory Domestic Workers Bill 2021, which prohibits the employment of anyone under the age of 18 in the household in any capacity. However, it is still pending passage from the National Assembly.


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