Child Domestic Labour to be criminalized

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari stated on Twitter on 17th of June 2020 that cabinet has approved the ministry’s summary to amend the Child Employment Act, 1991 by inserting child domestic labour in part one of the schedule.

Dr Mazari had been pushing to include domestic labour by children as a hazardous line of work under this act, maintaining that in the absence of legislation to protect domestic workers this would be the fastest way to protect children. Mazari was referring to the murder of eight-year-old domestic worker Zohra Shah, who was beaten to death by her employer.

The Employment of Children Act 1991 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in unsafe and hazardous environments such as factories, carpet industries and mines.

Dr Mazari also said on Wednesday that section four of the act empowers the federal government to add any occupation to the schedule through a notification in the official gazette.

“After devolution this applies to Islamabad, but one hopes provinces will also move on this. Child in this act is defined as under 14 years of age,” she said.

Human Rights Secretary Rabiya Javeri Agha told Dawn that her office is now waiting for the minutes from the cabinet.

“The relevant ministry then has to add domestic labor to schedule one and notify it. Then it becomes illegal in Islamabad Capital Territory only. The provinces have to do the same in their areas as labour is a devolved subject,” she said, adding: “Yes, it will then be illegal to engage children as domestic labour.”

Ms Agha said that this is a big step for the country and the human rights ministry, which went beyond its mandate to fight for the change since the subject of labour is with the ministries of interior and overseas Pakistanis, and not the Ministry of Human Rights.

It is important to put pressure on the provinces to follow suit, she said, adding: “People don’t realise the impact of this amendment. This step is unbelievable and if followed by the provinces, can change the profile of children in our country.”

The cabinet has also directed the ministry to carry out a survey of child domestic labour in Islamabad, which is necessary for the government to devise a social protection programme for poor families forced to make their children take on domestic labour. One of the biggest obstacles to defending the rights of children is that there is no law protecting domestic labour. Draft legislation prepared by the ministry in this regard is with the Ministry of Law.


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