The Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs introduced the “Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2018” last Wednesday during the Punjab Assembly session. The deputy speaker referred the Bill to the concerned committee and sought a report within two months. The Bill is another piece of idealistic legislation and aims at regulating the domestic workers’ industry. The Bill includes provisions for protecting the rights of the domestic workers, regulating their terms of employment, working conditions of service and provision of social protection and welfare to the domestic workers.

In addition to regulating the domestic worker industry, the Bill also aims to curb the employment of children as domestic workers. Section 3 of the Bill states, “No child under the age of 15 years shall be allowed to work in a household in any capacity”. Section 32 of the Bill stipulates penalties for the contravention of the provisions of the Bill. Section 32 (2) relates specifically to the contravention of section 3 and states, “Whoever knowingly contravenes the provisions of section 3, shall be liable to punishment with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month if he employs a child under the age of 12 years and in case of a child under 15 years by fine which may extend to Rupees fifty thousand but which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees”.

Child labour is a menace and has the potential to give birth to a myriad of social evils. However, the provisions of the aforementioned Bill relating to child labour are confusing. Article 11 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan states, “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment”. The said article, therefore, tacitly allows employment of children below the age of fourteen as long as they are not working in a hazardous industry. On the contrary, the Bill prohibits employment of children under the age of 15 as domestic help, a non-hazardous industry. However, then the Bill contradicts its own objective in the penalty scheme envisaged by section 32 (2). The said section tacitly allows employment of children aged between 12 to 15 if the employer is willing to buy the right to contravene the act through payment of the fine.

Additionally, the Bill encourages the employment of child labour as domestic workers by undercutting the incentive scheme stipulated by the general law on the prohibition of child labour . ‘The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016’ prohibits employment of children under the age of 15. Section 11 (1) of the Act provides that an employer, who employs a child, shall be liable to punishment for a term which may extend to six months, but which shall not be less than seven days and with a fine between ten to fifty thousand rupees. Why is there a difference in penalty if an employer undertakes child labour in the domestic worker industry or a business establishment? Does the difference in penalties indicate an acceptance by the state that a child working as domestic help is less disadvantaged as compared to a child working in the business establishment? And what, if any, is the rationale for this discrimination?

If anything, basic economic rationale dictates otherwise. When a child is working as domestic help, he/she is not learning any marketable skills. Therefore, his/her wages will remain the same throughout his job. This will not be the case in a business establishment. Suppose a child is working in a football factory. While the child is in the employment, he/she will undergo on the job training. Later on, the child might be able to enter the industry as a skilled worker on considerable better wages. Therefore, the proposed Bill should either have the same penalties as that of the ‘The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016’ or maybe even stricter ones.

Furthermore, these laws on their own will not be able to alleviate the problem of child labour . The state must take drastic steps to address the causes which force parents to send their child to work. Two significant reasons which give birth to this problem are poverty and over-population. The state should keep a check on inflation and take measures to increase GDP per capita. Currency needs to be kept stable since the dwindling value of rupee makes poor, poorer. The state is having a unidirectional focus on foreign investment. The state must widen the net of its reforms. Conditions should be made suitable for the local industry to boom and flourish.

The goliath of over-population also needs to be reined in. Over-population is a cause as well as an effect of poverty. The state must use the tool of propaganda effectively to spread awareness among the common Pakistanis. It should move beyond mere Churchillian rhetoric and take practical steps to address the problem. All stakeholders, including the right-wing elements of the society, must be taken on board if the state is serious about its efforts.

To conclude, a piece of legislation is one of the many and, some would say, least effective tool that a state possesses to bring reform. Any reform agenda must include broader economic, social and cultural areas and drafting a law must have secondary importance in the broader scheme of things.

 

The writer is a practicing lawyer and has an

LLM from The University of Chicago.