This study is based on qualitative research to identify gaps in laws, policies, and administrative measures in Pakistan with regard to domestic child labour. For the primary data, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with key informants in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad. The research uses both primary and secondary data to present the situation of child domestic labour (CDL) in Pakistan.
Child domestic workers (CDWs) make up a significant proportion of child labourers. CDL is invariably performed inside houses or households; thus, it is considered a “hidden phenomenon." CDWs may be defined as persons “under 18 years of age performing domestic chores in the home of a third party, with or without remuneration. This is distinct from children performing household chores within their own homes.” In Pakistan, there are no exact figures on child labour (or CDL, as a subcategory of child labour), but estimates have been based on old surveys. CDL is unevenly distributed across Pakistan and is most often an urban phenomenon, although it is also found in rural areas. When employers decide to hire children to carry out work for them, there is no set minimum age requirement. The media reported that in 2019, employers in Lahore and Karachi cruelly tortured 7-yearold ‘F’ and 8-year-old ‘N’, respectively. In 2011, a study found that 27 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 10 were engaged in child domestic work (CDW). However, the majority of CDWs are between 10 and 15 years of age. Usually, female CDWs start working when they are 6 or 7 years old, often with their mothers, before transitioning to independent work around the age of 10.
CDWs are engaged in a variety of household tasks, including dishwashing, ironing, mopping, dusting, sweeping, laundry, cooking, housecleaning, and babysitting. Children who live with their employers are more likely to face hazards, be called on at any time, work nonstop with no regular schedule, take fewer vacations, and travel home less frequently—sometimes only once a year or once every two years. If they are kept confined to specific areas of the house, usually the kitchen having no separate access to a toilet and locked inside when their employers leave the house, such employment is equivalent to slavery. Rural CDWs typically experience isolation. Their familiar surroundings are completely sealed off from them, and they are usually denied access to natural resources like open space and fresh air. Violence and abuse are commonplace for many children. Additionally, frequent reprimands, emotional abuse, and physical assault are common. Employers have brutally mistreated children on multiple occasions in recent years, and there have been cases where they have been beaten to death. A 2017 study found that 80 percent of CDWs spent Eid (an Islamic festival) with their employers, and 67 percent expressed a desire to leave their professions.