LAHORE - The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered strict compliance with the laws, which prohibit employment of children below 15.

Hearing a petition against violation of laws pertaining to violence against domestic workers, Justice Jawad Hassan told the authorities concerned to set up special courts as well as protection bodies to ensure protection to children working as household helpers.

The court announced the verdict on enforcement of fundamental rights of domestic workers at an open court. The court also appreciated that for the first such legislation is being introduced and that Pakistan is one of a few countries where domestic workers would be regulated under a law and child labour below 15 years is strictly prohibited.

On behalf of the petitioner, Sheraz Zaka Advocate argued that when workers in commercial establishments are being regulated under the Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, there must be a law for domestic workers. He argued that domestic workers are being discriminated and subjected to torture. The law officer meanwhile submitted that under Domestic Workers Act 2018, there would be dispute resolution committees in every district and labour courts as well. The judge appreciated the fact the wages of the domestic workers would be notified by the Punjab govt at par with workers working in commercial establishment. The judge directed the govt for legislating expeditiously on the issue. The court appreciated the efforts of labour department, and observed that finally the exploitation of domestic workers including children would be brought to an end under the new law.

The judge observed that the international law - Domestic Workers Convention - is of highly persuasive value although Pakistan has not ratified it. It was also observed that Pakistan is one of those countries where domestic workers law is enforced. Pakistan has complied with international agreements by virtue of being a member of international labour organization, the court observed. The detailed verdict was issued in which the court directed the govt of Punjab to celebrate Domestic Workers Labour Day simultaneously with the Labour Day is on May 1 and the domestic workers would be entitled for full holiday on the day. A notification has also been issued regarding the salaries of child domestic workers.

As per the order, kids aged 15 to 18 will only work for three hours. Special courts would be formed to address the issues related to children working in houses. The court ordered that for the protection of domestic workers’ rights a social security institution would be formed. The respondents were represented by Assistant Advocate-General Rai Shahid Saleem Khan, Sehar Zareen Bandial Advocate Amicus Curiae Ahmad Pansota and Law Officer Raj Maqsood while Assistant Attorney-General for Pakistan Sadia Malik appeared on Court’s call. The court was assisted by Rana Shahryar, a research officer.

The petitioner had sought indulgence of the court for enforcement of the fundamental rights of domestic workers by directing the government to initiate proper legislation for them. The minimum wages and working conditions of the domestic workers require specific legalization. “It is pertinent to mention here that there is no law in existence which could regulate the wages and working conditions of domestic workers. Therefore, this court being guardian of fundamental rights of people of Pakistan is constrained to play its due role in order to remove the above said discriminatory treatment,” the order says.

The petitioner had prayed for directing the respondents to notify/provide guidelines with respect to minimum wages of the domestic workers as they are not regulated by any law in Pakistan. Earlier, the court This vide order dated 09-12-2015 held that the domestic workers are being unduly discriminated, and the issue of minimum wages for domestic workers requires legislation and is a policy issue. This court further directed the Secretary, Labour & Human Resource Department, Government of Punjab to consider the possibility of legislation on the subject. Later, the petitioner filed a contempt petition that was converted into a writ petition as it involved an important public issue regarding the rights at work of domestic workers. The counsel for the petitioner submitted that under Article 3 of the Constitution, all the domestic workers have to be protected in Pakistan. To its dismay domestic workers are exposed to exploitation and hazardous working conditions and there is no proper legislation to protect their fundamental rights.

Meanwhile, the amicus curiae argued that the fundamental rights of domestic workers have been exploited by the employers which are sheer violation of Article 3 of the Constitution. They further state that the workers employed in industrial sector are protected by various labour laws whereas workers employed in the domestic sector (residence, small shops and business etc.) have neither been recognized nor been protected by any legislation for their welfare.

The order says, “The people of the country are compelled by the circumstances to make their livelihood even by sending their women and offspring for labour. The domestic workers comprise the majority of employed persons in Pakistan’s large, unregulated and informal economy, and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, financial and otherwise. Domestic work is considered by the ILO as one of the occupations with the worst quality of employment – characterized by long work days, low pay and limited social protection coverage.”

It further says, “In Pakistan, the Domestic labour is the most hazardous and fatal profession as has been indicated by various news reports of violence against child domestic workers….Domestic work is one of the oldest professions in the history of the world with highest workforce participation by women and children. It is mostly undervalued and a low-paid activity.”

“There is no end to the plight of child domestic workers (CDWs). They are in millions. They are continuously sold, exploited, abused, raped, sodomized, tortured and killed. It is unfortunate that no other occupation in Pakistan has resulted deaths of children than child domestic labour (CDL),” the order says. The order says, “In Pakistan, CDWs are deprived of all fundamental rights given in the Constitution of Pakistan and even the right to life, merely for the reason of protecting the household sanctity.” Appreciating legal acumen and assistance rendered by the counsels, assistant attorney-general etc, the court disposed of the petition.