Young Akhtar Ali, a 16-year-old domestic worker was found dead in his employer’s house in Lahore a few days ago. Ali and his younger sister had been working for Fauzia, daughter of a PML-N member of Punjab assembly, Shah Jahan. The post mortem report has confirmed all the fears expressed by Ali’s family. The child was beaten to death with the help of a blunt weapon. What makes the case even more harrowing is the statement by the Police that the deceased boy’s body had been brutalized by old and fresh wounds. Torture therefore had been an instrument of managing the slave.
The story of Pakistan’s child slaves is well known and our state and society are complicit in such institutionalised exploitation. This tragedy has shocked us all but the truth is that after a few days of mourning, outrage and lofty statements, we shall forget about it. For Ali is not the first such victim of abuse and violence and nor will he be the last one.
Every other week we hear about such ill-treatment of child workers. In fact, another horrific case that took place a few years ago concerned a young Shahzia Masih who was tortured to death in a lawyer’s house. That happened in Lahore as well. The lawyers’ community obstructed the course of justice. Had the state shown some resolve to punish the family, we may have avoided many other deaths like that of Ali.
Separated from their families thousands of children are sent from rural areas to urban homes where affluent families employ them as virtual slaves. They are subjected to subhuman working conditions. Worse, the society accepts it.
This collective culpability needs to be called out and changed. It is unacceptable that we continue to treat children of a lesser god in this manner.
Child labour is a complex problem and banning it is certainly not the solution as many a bleeding heart people suggest. Poor families have strong economic reasons to produce more kids and then send them into the labour market. Until the state addresses the drivers of multi dimensional poverty, we will not overcome the menace of child labour. While this may take a few decades, if not more, there are regulatory and deterrence measures that need to be instituted and this is where the state has a role.
We demand that the government of the Punjab should ensure justice is done to Ali’s family with fear or favour. At the same time, the media and child rights’ groups need to sensitise the public that days of child slavery are over. *
Published in Daily Times, July 17th , 2017.