The Lahore High Court has stepped in to ease the plight of the millions of child domestic workers employed in households across Punjab. A LHC bench hearing a petition filed in March this year has ordered that the provincial government step in to ensure that no child under the age of 15 is employed as domestic help and to take measures to implement this important ruling. The court set up a commission comprising a representative of the Labour Department, Unicef, and legal experts to devise the framework of the order, which it hopes will be converted into a law. We hope lawmakers in the provincial assembly will take the necessary steps to do so. There is a desperate need to enforce recommendations made already by courts and parliament to bring children out from behind the closed doors of homes where they often work in abysmal conditions.
We have heard over the past few years one story after another of the ill-treatment or even murder of child domestic workers who can be easily exploited and abused because they are not able to protect themselves. The cycle of poverty running through families enables this, with parents sending children as young as five or six out to work as a means to supplement family incomes. People all over the country need to be persuaded to understand that employing children as domestic help, often seen lugging around toddlers not much younger than themselves, is unacceptable. A study conducted over a decade ago by a consortium of NGOs working against the sexual abuse of women workers noted that over 90 percent of maids in households suffered abuse of one kind or the other. Child maids are of course especially vulnerable. We do not know how many of these crimes go reported.
This needs to stop. We hope the LHC order will be the first step in this direction. It needs, however, to be combined with an all-out campaign and steps that can rescue children from the horrors they face as domestic servants. The fact that labour rights are not extended to them means they often must work up to 16 hours a day or even more. The salaries they receive amount to almost nothing. It is the duty of all of us to speak out against this common form of abuse in our society so that it can be brought to a halt. We connive in the crime when we fail to speak.