Butterflies with Clipped Wings - Bakhtawar Tayyab
Childhood is a phase that all of us love to reflect upon a few many times – sharing anecdotes and excitingly stumbling onto fun and embarrassing memories is something we all enjoy delving into when hanging out with friends and family. Those care-free days when we fluttered our wings like happy butterflies, danced to the tune of the Walls ice cream man’s cycle, played ‘kho-kho’ with our best friends and eagerly waited for the school bell to ring as the smell of “makai” wafted through the air. There's no doubt that these moments will always have a special place in our treasure chest of cherished memories.
Unfortunately, some butterflies have their wings clipped before they get to make their first flight.
According to an unofficial survey, child domestic labour is in practice in every fifth home in our country. The wings of butterflies born in the houses of our downtrodden masses are sadly crippled by the manacles of poverty. Consequently, they are forced to work as house help from an extremely young age. While our childhood memories echo with laughter and vibrance, theirs are stained and haunted with loneliness, intimidation, maltreatment and even abuse.
A while ago,pictures of the ten-year old Tayyaba went viral on social media, her bloodied face and swollen eyes spoke volumes about the excruciating pain and torment she had been through for losing nothing but a broom. Upon further investigation, following the outcry of the public, it was found that the employers had even burnt her hands with an iron for her innocent and harmless misdoing. Another domestic help abuse case that crossed the public eye was of the eleven-year old Kinza who had escaped her employer’s house after over a year of being trapped inside. Her bruised face, parched lips and eyes dried of tears and destitute of any sign of happiness narrated a heart wrenching story of starvation and violent beatings. The sounds of kicking and stomping that her frail body had somehow survived and the marks on her skin from being beaten with wires and belts are going to be the ‘yaadein’ she will have of her childhood.
More recently, the story of a seven-year old Zahra who had died of torture after releasing her employer’s parrots from their cage became public. I want you all to stop reading at this point and think what these little girls ever did to deserve such a childhood, or how many more Tayyabas, Kinzas and Zahras will have to sacrifice before we as a society simply learn to be humane!
A report jointly issued by three human rights groups; the Hari Welfare Association (HWA), the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Institute for Social Justice (ISJ), early this year, said at least one hundred and forty child domestic workers had suffered torture, rape or murder over the last decade. It is feared that closures and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic may push another ten million people below the poverty line therefore child labour is expected to rise exponentially.
The perpetrators of all the three cases mentioned above have not faced the music for their horrific, unforgivable crimes and continue to live their lives as normal. These cases like many others are brushed under the carpet or remain unreported by poor families due to fear, threats, extortion or settlements (basically bribe) reached with those behind the abuse. It is our responsibility to not just like, comment and/or share such stories on social media, but ensure that these cannibals are given a taste of their medicine and justice is served to the tee.
The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is a name we are all aware of - this NGO serves as a platform for providing quality education and character building to numerous under privileged students across the country thereby opening several doors of life-transforming opportunities for them. Search for Justice is another NGO that strives to alleviate the pain and suffering of these oppressed children and other marginalised sectors of our society. It has established the Children Advocacy Network (CAN) in partnership with like minded national and global organisations in order to work for child protection. Pakistan has ratified the UN Convention on the rights of children, however, in spite of all these measures the plight of 250,000 (estimated figure from an unofficial survey) under age domestic workers in our country is far from coming to an end. The already impoverished families of these children would be left penniless if they do not work as helping hands in running their households. We face an extremely big challenge in coming up with a holistic solution - which includes family planning awareness schemes, vocational training programmes and a strong legal framework in order to pull our children out of this vicious cycle of child labour.
I would love to hear your suggestions regarding the big or small steps each of us can take in order to resolve this pressing issue. Please leave your comments below. Thank you.
Bakhtawar is an eager reader of fiction novels and is particularly interested in stories of women and children of the subcontinent. She wants to raise awareness about the battles they fight everyday through her heart wrenching articles and short stories. She has done LSE’s international degree programme in economics and management, and looks forward to write about the new age marketing landscape and e-business as well.