Pakistani mother shares pain over death of daughter in domestic servitude

by Zofeen T. Ebrahim | @zofeen28 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 11 June 2020 12:26 GMT

Samina Abbas, mother of the eight-year-old maid, sits on a cot at her home in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan on June 9, 2020. Photo credit: Voicepk.net

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Zohra Shah’s mother said the decision to put her eight-year-old daughter to work was her "biggest regret"

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

KARACHI, June 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) 

The brutal death of an eight-year-old maid should serve as a wakeup call to poor villagers in Pakistan to stop sending their children off to work in the city, the girl's mother said.

Speaking ahead of Friday's World Day Against Child Labour, the mother said the decision to put the girl to work was her "biggest regret" and urged fellow villagers "never to send their kids to the city" as she had done some three months earlier. 

Zohra Shah was taken to a hospital in Rawalpindi of Punjab province on May 31 with serious injuries and died soon afterwards.

The girl's employers, a couple, beat her after she let their parrots free, according to police. They said the two have been arrested over the killing and an investigation was underway.

Shah was one of millions driven into child labour in a country where poverty has forced many families to send their children to work instead of to school.

"It will remain the biggest regret of my life," Samina Abbas, 35, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from her village in Muzaffargarh district, more than 600 km (370 miles) from where her daughter worked.

It is illegal for children to work in factories and other  industries in Pakistan, but there are still about 12 million child workers in the country, according to the Islamabad-based Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).

Many work as domestic staff in private homes, making it more difficult for authorities to detect.

  

CHANGE?

Her death sparked outrage across Pakistan, prompting authorities to propose changes to legislation governing child labour and ensure her killers were brought to justice.   

Abbas said she could not meet or speak to the employers to find out what they were like before her brother in law took the girl to their home in Rawalpindi.   

She said her brother in law, who had worked several years as a cook for the couple, had vouched for them and said the girl would be able to play outside and enjoy city life.

"He told me they needed someone to babysit their four-month-old son and in return promised to get her educated," she said.

Police said they found mobile phone videos from the couple showing the girl being tortured and put in a cage.

The employers told police they had paid 50,000 rupees ($307) to the family, but Abbas said they got nothing.

"I never expected money. All I ever wanted in exchange was a better life for her," she said from her mud brick home. 

While Abbas did not see her daughter after she left the village, they spoke occasionally by phone.

"She never once said she was unhappy or wanted to return to the village. When I would ask about her education, she would say she was studying," she said.

   

PROVIDER?

The girl's father, Tahir Shah, said he lost his job as a trolley conductor three months ago and that his sons - aged 10 and 11 - refused to work at a nearby orchard.

While Shah said he wanted his children to study, the nearest school was about 10 km away and he could anyway not afford the tuition, books and uniforms.

"I can't even think of getting them educated," he said, urging the government to provide free education and school transportation for all children. 

But more than anything else, the parents said they wanted justice for their daughter.

"I just want the couple to be sentenced to death for what they did to my daughter," the father said.

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Lockdown reveals rampant child labour in India as kids stream home

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(Reporting by Zofeen T. Ebrahim, writing by Annie Banerji, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)