The Plight of Pakistan’s Household Workers

Pakistan's domestic workers endure abuse, lack legal protection, and need societal change.

Faisal Raza
By Faisal Raza 5 Min Read
Pakistan Household Domestic Labor

The domestic workforce, or household workers, in Pakistan is one of the most precarious and mistreated in the world. Domestic workers undertake a range of responsibilities, encompassing culinary duties, sanitation maintenance, laundry services, garment pressing, child supervision, and senior assistance, among others, on behalf of their employers. Frequently, they endure long hours of work, receive low rewards, and lack access to social safeguards. The people who hire them treat them like disposable materials and mistreat them physically, sexually, and psychologically. Their access to the legal system, schools, hospitals, and collective bargaining is severely limited. They are usually women and children from low-income and oppressed communities who have no other option but to submit to domestic servitude.

An estimated 8.5 million Pakistanis work as domestic servants, with 3.9 million of them being youngsters, according to a recent survey by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Also, only 1% of domestic employees have signed contracts, and they make less than half the minimum wage. Most domestic employees are hired off the books and are never fully recognized by the law because they lack proper identification and documents.

Several shocking examples of abuse, torture, and murder have brought international attention to the situation of Pakistan’s domestic workers. In 2016, a judge in Islamabad viciously tortured and burned his 10-year-old maid, whose name was Tayyaba. A TV producer in Lahore, Pakistan, strangled a 16-year-old employee named Uzma to death in 2019. Recently in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2023, there was a case of the torture and physical assault of a 13-year-old girl named Rizwana by her employer, the wife of a civil judge. The awful crimes against domestic workers are numerous and varied.

Laws for the Protection of Domestic Child Labor in Pakistan

The Punjab Domestic Workers Act of 2019, the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act of 2017, and the Prohibition of Employment of Children Act of 2015 are legislative measures enacted at the provincial level in Pakistan. These laws have been designed with the objective of safeguarding and overseeing the rights and labor conditions of domestic employees and children. The regulations in place prevent the engagement of individuals below the age of 15 and adolescents below the age of 18 in occupations that pose risks to their well-being. Additionally, they provide a range of benefits and safeguards to domestic workers, including but not limited to minimum pay, social security coverage, health insurance, and alternatives for resolving disputes. They also institute registration systems, welfare funds, inspection processes, and fines for non-compliance. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has established the Domestic Employees Convention, 2011 (No. 189), which serves as an international convention delineating the labor standards applicable to domestic employees.

It is acknowledged that domestic employees should be entitled to the same rights as workers in other sectors, including but not limited to the rights to freedom of association, wage negotiations, well-being at work, parental leave, non-discrimination, and safeguards from domestic violence and abuse.

Additionally, it necessitates that states implement various measures to guarantee satisfactory employment conditions for domestic workers. These measures may include the extension or modification of current laws and regulations or the creation of new ones specifically tailored to address the needs of domestic workers. Furthermore, states should provide domestic workers and employers with relevant information and training, facilitate their access to justice and mechanisms for resolving disputes, promote international cooperation and assistance in this regard, and actively collect data and statistics pertaining to domestic work.

As of early 2020, only 7,000 domestic workers have registered under the act, considerably below the objective of 50,000, as per a report by WISE (Women in Struggle for Empowerment), an NGO campaigning for domestic workers’ rights in Punjab. According to the report, many employers are either unfamiliar with or unwilling to implement the act’s provisions, and many domestic employees are either unwilling or unable to advocate for themselves out of fear of retaliation.

There is no legislation or policy in place to safeguard domestic workers in any other province, making their already precarious condition considerably worse. Since 2018, Sindh has been sitting on a draft bill protecting the rights of domestic employees. Neither Khyber Pakhtunkhwa nor Baluchistan have made any headway on the problem. A key barrier to enhancing the status and well-being of domestic workers in Pakistan is the lack of political will and public awareness.

When it comes to protecting the rights of domestic workers and ensuring that they have access to necessary resources, civil society and human rights organizations have been crucial players. HomeNet Pakistan, the Labour Education Foundation, Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, and the Aurat Foundation are just a few of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) actively engaged in this cause. These NGOs have conducted studies, campaigns, workshops, clinics, union organizing efforts, policy dialogues, and provided legal aid for those in need. They have worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO), United Nations Women (UN Women), Women in Informal Employment (WIEGO), the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), and HomeNet South Asia (HNSA) to advocate for decent employment for domestic workers.

However, these initiatives fall short of addressing the systemic, cultural issues that keep domestic workers in Pakistan in a position of oppression and exploitation. A holistic and all-encompassing strategy is required, one that brings together domestic workers, employers, unions, the media, religious leaders, academics, and members of the public from all walks of life. Domestic workers in Pakistan need to be seen and treated as human beings, workers, and citizens, rather than as subordinates, servants, or slaves. A societal movement to eradicate domestic servitude must target the power structures, social stratifications, gender inequities, and feudal mentalities that perpetuate it. Domestic workers in Pakistan need a unified front to demand respect and fair treatment in the workplace.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in articles and blogs on Aware Pakistan are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official stance of the website. We are not liable for the accuracy of information provided by authors.

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