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PAKISTAN: Small Hands Big Work-Female Child Domestic Servants in Karachi

July 10, 2009
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By Mr. Amir Murtaza.

The research was conducted by a group of students headed by Amir Murtaza conducted the research.


The use of children as domestic servants is certainly one of the most pervasive forms of child labor in Pakistan. Children as young as five spend 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, to earn money to support their families. An unfortunate individual, social and institutional acceptance about child labor has made hundreds of thousands of Pakistani children vulnerable to all imaginable forms of violence and abuse.

A research has recently been conducted in three posh areas of Karachi, capital of Sindh province with a view to ascertain the personal/family background and working environment/conditions of girls child working as domestic servant in upper-middle or upper-class localities. The research team targeted 40 female, under the age of 18, domestic servants and requested them to respond some questions, with their permission. Two girls had refused to respond the questions while one girl was bared by her employer to reply the research questions.

The research recommended that since root cause of the problem is endemic poverty and systematic gender bias against female children; therefore, government should initiate a program and provide support to female child domestic servants under Benazir Income Support Programme. As the research findings mentioned that a majority of female child domestic servants earn not more than Rs. 1000/= (USD 12/=), it would be easy for the government to provide their families such amount under Benazir Income Support Programme and in return make sure that the girl child should attend formal school.

According to the findings of the research a large majority of female domestic workers are in the age group of 8 to 12 years (64.%) followed by those in the age group of 13 to 17 years (23.41%) and below to 8 years old (10.11%). Majority of the girls belong to Siraki speaking families followed by Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi and Urdu speaking families.

Internal migration from small villages and towns to big cities is quite prevalent in Pakistan. The research results further substantiated this trend as a vast majority of respondents (79.64%) migrated to Karachi from different areas, notably from southern Punjab followed by central Punjab, interior Sindh and some Balochistan. However, some respondents (19.27%) were the permanent residents of this city.

One of the major causes of internal migration is seeking better employment opportunities in big cities like Karachi and Lahore. 64% of respondents belong to families where both parents and children are involved in economic activities. 24.22% respondents claimed that their fathers don¡¦t do any work while 10.65% informed that their brothers attend school and don't contribute in family income.

¡§My parents are absolutely clear that only male child deserves school education because after studies he will help them. My father is convinced that girls don¡¦t need to study as they have to helped their mothers and contribute in family income. My mother is saving money from my salary because she has started the preparation of my marriage and huge finances are required for girl¡¦s marriage in our community,¡¨ one of the respondents told the research team.

71% of the respondents informed that they had never attended any school, formal or informal, followed by 22% attended religious school or Madrassa while 7.33% attended formal school but not able to even complete the primary classes. It is surprising that despite low level of education among the respondents almost all girl child domestic servants showed their willingness to join the school, if ever they get the chance.

¡§I really like the uniform of my employer¡¦s daughter and the way she speaks English. I love aeroplane and always wanted to fly the aeroplane along with my mother and six siblings; however, I don¡¦t want to bring my father with me because of his indifferent and erratic behavior,¡¨ a respondent told the research team.

Large family size often held responsible for child¡¦s involvement in work and the research result showed that a large number of respondents (59.76%) come from the family of 9 or more members, followed by 27.43% respondents from 7 family members and 11.27% respondents from 5 family members. The research team didn¡¦t come across to any female child domestic worker who was the only child of her family.

The research also validated the prevailing assumption that the parents of majority of working children are alive as the results showed that almost 74.49% respondents have both parents alive, while 16.% have single mother and 7.88% have single father. Only one respondent informed that neither her mother nor father alive and her maternal grand-mother taking care of her.

The research team also tried to find out the contribution make by children in overall family¡¦s income. 32% respondents informed that there family income is Rs. 8000/= or more, while 28.44% believed family income is Rs. 6000/= or more, 21.56% said Rs. 4000/= or more and 17.45% said Rs. 2000/= or more. It is pertinent to mention here that the father of all respondents do manual labor work which is low paid and lacks consistency. Female child domestic servants also work on low salaries and a majority of respondents (55.34%) receive Rs. 1000/= for their whole month labor. 17.57% respondents get Rs. 1200/= per month, 13.24% receive Rs. 1500/= and 11.77% receive Rs. 2000/= as their one month salary. One of the respondent informed that she received Rs. 2500/= as her monthly salary. Two respondents said they don¡¦t receive any monthly salary as three-time meal, clothes and shelter is merely the compensation of their hard work. They, two respondents, further informed that their parents even can not afford to provide them the basic daily life necessities, like food, clothes and shelter; therefore, they are working without any monetary benefit. While talking about meager financial benefits for their work, all the respondents informed that their employers provide them food and used clothes which enable them to save their monthly salary. A majority of the respondents divulged that being working as child domestic servant is a sort of apprenticeship for them and as soon as they learn all the daily chores, notably cleaning, dusting, washing clothes and crockery, they will get a higher salary job of around Rs. 6000/= per month.

There are no specific job responsibilities of these female child domestic servants working in three posh areas of Karachi. It is surprising that a majority of their employers are either government officers or working in private and corporate sector where job¡¦s terms of reference are clearly outlined. However, these people don¡¦t care about any job responsibilities for their child domestic servants. One of the employers admitted the fact that employers all taking for granted the services of these children. The female child domestic servants informed that they do all sorts of domestic work without any break. They do cleaning, dusting, washing dishes and clothes, prepare tea and often taking care of small children of their employer. A majority of them (62.77%) work over 14 hour per day, 25.64% work 12 hour in a day and 11.34% work 10 hour in a day.

It is pertinent to mention that those female child domestic servants, 44% of the respondents, who are living in their employer¡¦s house don¡¦t deserve any weekly holiday. However, 36% of the respondents informed that they enjoy a half-day off on Friday while only 7% respondents have a weekly holiday on Sunday.

Since, all the respondents spend a significant time in working, it became necessary for the research team to probe that which portion of their work do they enjoy most? Majority of the respondents said that they love cleaning and dusting either in lounge or bedroom because that provide them the opportunity to watch television. ¡§Sometime even I spend one hour in cleaning and dusting Baji¡¦s room as television in her bedroom never went off.¡¨ Some respondents like to taking care of infants as, according to them, the work provides them the opportunity to sit at one place and just relax.

All the respondents (92%) admitted the occurrence of emotional violence during their work followed by 6% in negative and 2%don¡¦t know. They informed that shouting, abusing and insulting are the most frequent forms of emotional violence they experienced in every day life. Mostly women, either the wife or the mother of the employer, perpetuate emotional violence; however, sometime male members of the family also shouted on them.

¡§When I was very young I don¡¦t understand the meaning of Begum Sahiba¡¦s (Madam) favorite utterance ¡¥kis haram ki oulad ha¡¦ (whose illegitimate child is this?). However, when last year I came to know the meaning, one day I responded to the burly Madam that ¡¥main tumhari trah haram ki oulad naheen hoon¡¦ (I am not an illegitimate child like you). She really beat me severely and pulled me out of the house. She never paid my salary of 22 days and even alleged that I had stolen Rs. 500/= from her draw.¡¨ A 10 year old respondent divulged.

The allegation of theft is the most frequent charge that all the respondents received, time to time, from their employers. ¡§Whenever, the family lost or misplaced anything they allege us,¡¨ one of the respondents informed. In case of theft allegation, female child domestic servants often experienced physical violence, like slapping or punching, or threat of police.

¡§Once they even called the cops as the youngest sister of my employer lost her mobile phone somewhere. The policeman slapped on my face and used dirty language for my parents. Fortunately, at the very same time Madam discovered the lost mobile phone under the seat of her car. They thanked the cops for their immediate response however, didn¡¦t bother to say a single word of compassion to me. I left the house after finishing all my work but never went back there even didn¡¦t take my 10 days salary,¡¦ one respondent recalled.

It was entirely surprising for the research team that many respondents, all of them under the age of 18, informed that due to such awful circumstances they have severe depression and sleeping disorder. Not a single respondent ever contacted to the doctor to discuss her health problems as they are totally unaware about the availability of any health facilities in their residential areas.

Unlike emotional and physical violence, it was rather difficult for the data collecting team, though comprised of girls, to get structured answers from the respondents about the occurrence of sexual violence at their work place. Many respondents politely refused to talk on sexual violence; therefore, the research team respected their stance and didn¡¦t ask any question about the issue of sexual violence. Out of the remaining respondents, 60% admitted sexual violence while 40% out rightly denied any such incident. Those who admitted sexual violence informed that mostly other servants, especially drivers, tried to take sexual advantage from them. They also informed that indecent and inappropriate touching is the most prevalent form of sexual violence they experienced at their work place. Some respondents also held teenage boys of the family responsible as perpetrator of sexual offensive. Two respondents informed that they experienced inappropriate touching from the grandfather of the family.

¡§I really like ¡¥Dada¡¦ (grandfather) because he always greeted me with nice words and gave candies. However; soon I realized that the old man is trying to take sexual advantage with me. That was a horrible time of my life as my parents were in Punjab and I had no option but to stay in the house. My mother came after one month, and as soon as she arrived I left the house immediately but never find the courage to tell my mother that what happened to me during her absence.¡¨ It seems that sexual violence is also as common as emotional and physical violence; however, due to lack of empowerment, tender age or social restrictions on talking about sex has placed a gag on female child domestic servants.

From community based organizations to international donor agencies and from union council to federal government, it is fortunate enough that all actors and stakeholders are agreed that affirmative steps need to be taken to provide some solace to child domestic workers.

The research suggested that sponsor a girl child camping should be launched and government should request to expatriates, local business and philanthropists to bear daily and education expenses of girl child from families experiencing absolute poverty.

In big cities, like Karachi, Lahore etc., donor agencies with the collaboration of NGOs should establish a helpline, specifically for female child domestic workers, to help them in troubled situation. The helpline should respond and coordinate with service providers, either government or non-government actors, to provide some relief to female child domestic servants.

Community based organizations needs to initiate evening school and health programmes, especially for female child domestic workers and in this regard government and institutional donor agencies must help them. Media can certainly help spread awareness; therefore, electronic and print media should try to build a proper understanding about the problems of female child domestic workers among masses.

Research, surveys, investigative or fact-finding reports can only bring a tiny portion of the problems of child domestic workers, either male or female, into limelight. Certainly the quantum of the problem is enormous and various forms of violence and exploitation are still unexplored.

A group of students headed by Amir Murtaza conducted the research.

Document Type :
Forwarded Article
Document ID :
AHRC-FAT-010-2009
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