The case of Tayyaba, a minor house-maid who was allegedly tortured by the family members of a judicial officer in Islamabad, is getting complicated and rather mysterious with the passage of time. She instantly disappeared as soon as the Chief Justice of Pakistan took suo motu notice of this case last week. Afterward, a number of individuals came forward and claimed that they were the parents of this hapless girl. Now the Islamabad police has recovered her from a suburban part of the city. At present, there is considerable confusion as to her actual name and parentage. A DNA test would probably help determine the parentage of this minor girl. However, she hardly needs any name or identity. Indeed, there is nothing in a name. By whatever name we call her, it will by no means lessen the miseries of this nameless girl. A girl who is being claimed by many, but owned by none. Moreover, we can conveniently recognise her by her numerous generic names- “Nikki”, “Chhoti”, “Guddi” etc.

The Tayyaba case has badly exposed the darkest side of both our state and society. We can just imagine the plight of this minor enslaved girl who was abandoned by her real parents, mistreated and tortured by her masters, shunned by the society, and finally disowned by the state. Her story simply shows how apathy and heartlessness have penetrated our body politic. How dexterously we have revived the institution of slavery in our society, how callously a large segment of our society has been reduced to a subhuman status. We proudly call ourselves Muslims, but have long divorced the fundamental human values essentially emphasised by the Islam. We have readily given rise to a highly-stratified, hierarchical and rather compartmentalised society. A society divided into Brahmans and pariahs.

Pakistan, as a state, has observably failed in significantly minimising the sufferings and woes of these ‘children of a lesser God’. The government looks quite disinterested in saving Tayyaba and millions of other children living under similar, or perhaps even worse circumstances.

According to the well-known Social Contract theory, a state is bound to protect its subjects, including the children, against all potential dangers. Ensuring the protection and welfare of minors are the primary obligations of a state. Therefore, every state should actively endeavour to introduce an extensive child protection regime by enacting some effective laws and establishing certain efficient agencies to enforce these laws. This is also done by the developed countries in the world where poverty and illiteracy are not really the grave issues as such. Indeed, the state cannot leave children at the mercy of society, or even their parents in some cases.

One of the most agonising aspects of the Tayyaba episode is the fact that the very moral values of the most educated and so-called civilised segment of our society have collapsed. A minor girl was illegally employed and later tortured by the family of a judicial officer in the capital city. Indeed, the judicial officers are supposed to enforce and supervise the child protection laws in the country. At the same time, her story has also shown how the complementary and supplementary components of our criminal justice system have become instrumental in exploiting the weaker and vulnerable segments of the society. They readily come forward to rescue the wrongdoers instead of the victim in distress. The police and lawyers usually join hands to save the accused, and criminal courts encourage the instant execution of Razi Nama (instrument of compromise) between the perpetrators and victims. In reality, the legal distinction between the compoundable and non-compoundable crimes in the country has disappeared. Now almost every crime is compoundable, thanks to the ‘conciliatory instincts’ of our criminal courts.

Presently a large number of minors like Tayyaba are serving as house-maids across the country. As a matter of fact, they have become an essential part of almost every household in posh urban localities. They perform multiple tasks ranging from cleaning and washing to child-rearing. Compared to adult and qualified nannies, they are much cheaper and easily available in each part of the country. These ‘young nannies’ are absolutely denied all the safeguards and benefits under the labour laws, including the minimum wages and works hours. Their status and role are no better than a slave. They can just be ‘purchased’ by advancing a little money to their parents. A large number of feminist NGO’s are operating in Pakistan. Their interests and operations unusually revolves around the issues like gender-equality, domestic violence, honour-killing etc. They never seriously took up the issue of these hapless girls.

Pakistan has been ranked third in the world for having the largest children’s workforce by the International Labour Organization (ILO). According to another report published by it in 2012, around 12.5 million children are involved in child labour. Poverty and illiteracy lie at the very root of the issue of child labour in Pakistan. Mostly, socio-economic imperatives compel children to work. Their parents can’t properly raise or educate them. So they force their children into child labour. Thus their children are a substantial means for their income instead of a liability. The more children, the more income. This tendency among the people is also an important reason behind the current population boom in the country.

The constitution of Pakistan strictly prohibits the child labour, bounded labour, slavery and similar other undesirable practices. Similarly, there are also a number of laws which address the issue of child labour in Pakistan, e.g. The Factories Act 1934, The West Pakistan Shops and Establishments Ordinance 1969, The Employment of the Children Act 1991 and The Bounded Labour Abolition Act 1992. Regrettably, the government has enacted many laws against the child labour practice but it has yet not established the appropriate agencies to monitor and enforce these laws in the country. Consequently, the situation regarding the child labour in Pakistan is deteriorating day by day.

In Punjab, the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau has been established under The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004. This is the right step towards ensuring the protection and welfare of children in the province. However, owing to some human and financial resources constraints, it has yet not succeeding in significantly overcoming the children specific problems in the largest province of Pakistan. This bureau is operating just like an NGO. It has no significant presence in smaller cities and rural areas, which house the larger segment of the population. Therefore, this bureau needs to be made more efficient, active and vigilant after enhancing its capacity to perform this sensitive task.

As the apex court has formally taken up the Tayyaba case, therefore now it should properly conclude this case by punishing those who are involved in persecuting and exploiting this minor girl. At the same time, the apex court should also ask the government to ensure the compliance of child protection and labour laws in the country by mobilising the relevant agencies. Similarly, the government should also proactively endeavour to introduce an effective and efficient child protection regime in Pakistan. Indeed, the state should not shy away from its basic obligation to protect neglected and persecuted children.