Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Pakistan: Child domestic workers at risk of violence

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 30 December 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Child domestic workers at risk of violence, 30 December 2010, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KARACHI, 30 December 2010 (IRIN) - In recent months stories in the Pakistani media of horrendous abuse suffered by some children engaged in domestic work have focused attention on their plight.

In Karachi, the capital of the southern province of Sindh, this month, 14-year-old Muhammad Zafar was rescued by police after neighbours reported the boy had been kept shackled at the home of his employers. He had also not been paid wages for some 19 months.

"His employers told us he had stolen gold items, and we could not see him or take him away till these had been paid for," Zafar's mother, Parveen Bibi, told IRIN.
She said the boy had been sent out to work as the family was very poor.

At a busy fast-food outlet in Karachi, several small girls watch over children they are paid to "mind". Their charges are in many cases barely a few years younger than themselves. In houses across cities, it is common to see children sweeping floors, washing dishes or performing other kinds of work.

They are a part of the child labour force, which consists, according to official figures, of three million children under 18. Of these, according to a 2003 survey in six major cities by the government's Commission for Child Welfare and Development, 8 percent are engaged as domestic workers. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) puts the number of children working in the domestic sector at 264,000, according to a 2004 report


"The abuse of children who work as domestic labourers is under-reported. These children are often trafficked from rural areas of Sindh and the Punjab, and brought to cities to work. As such they have no one to watch over them and are vulnerable to violence," Salam Dharejo, national manager at the Child Labour for the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child NGO, told IRIN.

He said this year they had documented six cases of death among child domestic workers as a result of violence inflicted on them.

It is believed that rising inflation is forcing families to send their children out to work. "Hardship for almost all families is increasing because food is more expensive," Sikander Lodhi, an economic analyst, told IRIN.

According to the Consumer Price Index of the Federal Bureau of Statistics, annual inflation was running at 15.37 percent in November 2010. Food price inflation is a key factor in this trend.

"Poverty is a huge factor in people sending children out to work, or selling them to those who use them as labour. The recent floods have also brought an increase in child labour, as people who came into cities after being displaced from poverty-stricken districts in Sindh and the southern Punjab saw opportunities to obtain employment for children in urban households," Dharejo said.

"My ten-year-old daughter now works in a big house, looking after a two-year-old and doing some cleaning chores. I worry about her constantly," Saadia Bibi, 40, told IRIN.

Torture, sexual abuse

She has good reason to worry. Last month, in the southern Punjab city of Multan, a child the same age working as a maid was brutally tortured because her employers believed she was possessed by evil spirits. 

There have been other allegations of torture involving child maids although in the high profile case of 12-year-old Shahzia Masih, whose employer was accused of her murder in January this year, a court in November acquitted him of the charges

Mistreatment of child domestic workers, according to the limited research available, is widespread.

Sexual abuse is not uncommon either. According to the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA), comprising a group of organizations working against the harassment of women in the workplace, 91 percent of female domestic workers say they have suffered sexual abuse.

Theme (s): Children, Food Security, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Search Refworld