Are Pakistani Households Abusing Domestic Workers?

Are Pakistani Households Abusing Domestic Workers?

It is true that Pakistan has its fair share of deranged practices and the abuse of domestic workers is one of them. It is often the case that domestic help in Pakistan gets abused by employers. In fact, just last year, “an Additional District and Sessions Judge and his spouse were convicted of burning a juvenile maid’s hand over a missing broom, beating her with a ladle, detaining her in a storeroom and threatening her with even worse. Their one-year prison sentence was later enhanced to three years by Islamabad High Court,” as reported in the Express Tribune.

I’m sure no one would be surprised to know that domestic work in Pakistan makes up a huge portion of our informal sector, considering every fourth household in the country hires a domestic worker. Most of these hired workers are females, especially children. Despite the hiring of domestic help being a norm, domestic workers are forced ti face issues like long and unlimited hours of work, lack of legal protection, heavy workload, violence and abuse at work (physical, psychological or sexual), forced labor/child labor or trafficking of domestic workers, no minimum wage protection and low salaries, no labor inspection and no law enforcement.

The Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act 2013, the very first Bill on domestic workers in Pakistan, was drafted and presented in the Senate in 2013 and passed by the Senate in 2017. The aim of this law was to bring domestic workers under the jurisdiction of labor laws, protect their rights and welfare, provide them with social security, safety and health facilities and regulate their employment conditions.

In Pakistan, domestic work employs a large number of female workers. The most common types of domestic work include child domestic labor and bonded/forced labor. Child domestic labor refers to a child (under the age of 14 years) being employed to work in a household.

Sadly enough, even though legal provisions exist to protect the rights of domestic workers – both children and adults – there is no way to ensure the safety of domestic workers. No formal contracts are concluded in these situations and even if they are, chances are that domestic workers would not be educated enough to comprehend what’s stated in them. Additionally, more often than not, salaries of domestic workers are too low, especially for children. Exploitation of domestic workers is a recurring understatement.

It is very rare for evidence of violence and abuse of this sort to be widely exposed but to think that this kind of behavior is prevalent in almost all households and that child labor and child abuse occur on a regular basis and do not get exposed in this manner just leaves me speechless and heartless. I am also aware of the fact that it isn’t only domestic laborers and workers who are abused over such petty issues – women in general have to face such circumstances if they are not able to cook according to other people’s standards, especially their husbands’.

This insane behavior arises from deep within our culture. The socio-economic class difference is also a factor that is often used as a justification for the abuse that the privileged perpetrate onto the not-so privileged. The poor are often considered as lesser human beings in this country, therefore, many people think it is perfectly alright to abuse and assault them in different manners. There is hardly any respect involved in addressing domestic workers as well – ‘naukar’ is the term commonly used to refer to domestic help, simplifying their existence to that of a mere slave. At other times, naukar is also used to insult another person.

As stated above, domestic workers constitute a large part of our informal sector and it is often difficult for households to get by without their help. These workers even stay away from their own families for days on end to be able to support them, while taking care of someone else’s family. It’s about time people in general start acknowledging the centuries-old abuse and disrespect shown towards domestic help and start treating them like fellow humans. It is the duty of each one of us to monitor the way we treat our help and make sure we speak up if and when we witness others mistreating them.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which she might be associated.

Purniya Awan

Author: Purniya Awan

The writer is the General Manager of MINT PR. She is a gender studies graduate of York University, has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and is a former member of Youth Parliament Pakistan. She tweets @PurniyaA