The wife of an army officer was prosecuted on July 2, for allegedly torturing their domestic help on June 30 at their apartment at the Mirpur Defence Officers’ Housing Society in the capital. The 11-year-old victim, Sabina, was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after she had approached to the Pallabi police station for legal remedy.
According to media reports, the wife the army officer used to torture the girl brutally over different trifling issues with utensils. The local residents found the girl crying on a street in Mirpur and brought her to the police station. She had several injury marks on her body. The police later took her to the One Stop Crisis Centre at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. She was then transferred to the Combined Military Hospital for better treatment.
Police had reportedly launched a drive to arrest a national team cricketer and his wife after a case was filed against them over torturing a child domestic help. A case was filed with the Mirpur Model Police Station, accusing the cricketer and his wife of physically torturing an 11-year-old girl, who had been earlier found by local people, with wounds on her body and face. The victim was sent to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital’s One-Stop Crisis Centre, according to Mirpur Model Police Station.
Reports published in newspapers almost every day speak a lot about our failure to protect children from abuse and the culture of impunity that rules supreme regarding this issue. A report carried by the Child Rights Advocacy Forum (BSAF) has revealed some chilling statistics – more than 13 thousand children became victims of inhuman torture over the last five years and among them 1,500 were killed. This is a horrific scenario, especially since these children did not die of natural causes. The causes of these untimely deaths include murder after abduction, murder after rape and suicide. More than a thousand children were raped during this period. The BSAF report also revealed that child abuse is increasing every year.
BSAF also found that the severity of torture ranged from inhuman working hours without any rest to constant beatings such as hitting the head against the wall, branding lit cigarettes and hot metal objects against raw skin, etc, while some were even raped and as a result committed suicide. According to another study conducted during the period between 2008 and 2011 by the Ain O Salish Kendra, more than 2,709 incidents occurred involving violence against domestic workers, of which 729 were led to death.
The government approved on December 21, 2015 the draft policy formulated to protect the rights of domestic workers, incorporating a provision for them to enjoy a four months maternity leave with salary. Surely, it was a commendable step taken by the government in view of the recent spike in violence and abuse that domestic help have been subjected to all over the country. The Domestic Help Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 (draft) was approved in the weekly cabinet meeting presided over by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
This step taken by the government has also officially recognised the work of domestic workers as a profession under the existing labour laws of the country. It has set 14 years as the minimum age for employment of anybody as domestic worker. The Domestic Help Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 has also paved the way for legal actions that law enforcers can take against abusing by the employers in case of torture and withholding of salaries. The draft has also got a provision to allow domestic workers to have rest and relaxation.
The draft policy, however, has a provision to employ domestic workers of minimum 12 years of age. In that case the employer will have to conduct negotiations in the presence of a third party. It also imposes bar on an employer forcing a stick aide to do household chores. The draft policy also mentioned that, the employer would bear medical expenses in case illness of the domestic helps and the worker should be allowed to perform his/her religious prayers. The draft policy has also a provision of taking legal redress if a domestic help falls victim to physical or mental torture or sexual harassment. If a domestic help files any case of sexual harassment or physical abuse, the government will bear the expenses of the case. But the Domestic Help Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, is yet to come as a law.
It is painful, but true that child domestic workers are tortured in different ways at their workplaces. Stories of such torture appear in newspapers every now and then. But hardly there is substantial progress in ending this. According to a baseline survey conducted by ILO and Unicef in 2007, there were 420,000 child domestic helps (aged 6-17 years) in Bangladesh. Of them, 147,000 are working in the capital city of Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong.
Among them, 83 per cent are female, who are mostly child and young. Domestic helps have to do many works at their employers’ houses from morning to midnight. But there is no one to ease heir sufferings and agonies. Domestic helps are excluded from the Bangladesh Labour Act-2006.
Incidences of torture on domestic help continue unabated in the capital city of Dhaka as employers in most cases go unpunished due to loopholes in law. According to Griha Sramik Odhikar Protistha Network, 797 incidents of inhuman torture on domestic workers took place in the last 10 years (2001-2010). Of them, 398 died, 299 sustained severe wounds and 100 others faced other forms of torture. Cases are filed but well-off employers manage to settle the cases through money or using muscle as the victims’ families are mostly poor and helpless.
According to a survey conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) nearly four lakh children aged between 6 and 17 years are now working as child domestic workers (CDWs) in Bangladesh and of them 1.32 lakh are engaged in Dhaka city alone. A domestic help who is employed under informal arrangement is not protected by any of the labour laws. She has no weekly holiday and as for food she only eats the left-over.
The domestic helps are often being subjected to tortures in many ways in society by their employers, as there is no comprehensive law for protecting them from repression and ensuring their rights. In view of an alarming increase of torture to domestic helps, the High Court issued a rule on the government in February 2011 to look into such offences on domestic helps and to take measures limiting their daily working time to five hours.
A recent research titled ‘Hidden Slavery Child Domestic Workers,’ has revealed a very painful truth for the whole nation. The survey conducted on 1,230 child domestic workers in seven divisions of the country said that nearly 80 per cent of child domestic workers, who are mostly girls, are compelled to work for 14 to 18 hours a day. Their long working hours often start at 5:00am and end at 1:00am, stated the report, based on data collected from Barisal, Bogra, Chittagong, Gazipur, Khulna, Munshiganj, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Sylhet cities, between November 2015 and January 2016.
Sadly, inhuman torture to minor domestic workers in the households remains to be a permanent scourge despite the existence of several laws against repression of women and children and policies to protect domestic workers and eliminate child labour. So, it is hoped that the government will rise to the occasion to implement all the relevant laws and the HC rule to wipe this malaise from our society. As torture on domestic helps has become a social malaise, the civil society leaders and the media can also play a vital role focusing on rights of the domestic helps.
The writer is a columnist