LAHORE: Sadia, a 17-year-old girl, was hired by a family in Chakwal two years ago and till date her family is not allowed to meet her despite the fact that she was tortured and abused by the employers and they paid hush money to her brother to stay silent.

Sadia’s (not real name) mother Naseema Bibi told News Lens Pakistan while sobbing that her daughter was sent to a family living in a cantonment area of Chakwal. “During the first 6 months, all requests for contact with my daughter were refused by the mistress of the family named Rakhshanda. After eight months, my husband and son went to see her and found her in tattered clothes with unevenly shaved hair, injuries on her scalp and a worn-out plaster in her arm.”

She continued saying that her son went to see her again with his friends to bring her back. He was intimidated with threats of jail by the influential owner. The owner paid some ‘hush money’ to keep him quiet and warned him not to return for her again, she said.

“My son never disclosed the amount of hush money he was paid to sell his innocent sister, and just told us not to talk of her otherwise we will lose him forever, ” she, angrily said.

This is not the only case. There might be hundreds or more in which young maids are physically tortured or abused but go unreported as heavy hush-money is paid to heirs of victims as price for their silence.

A survey by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), conducted in the federal and provincial capitals of Pakistan, states that Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi in the Punjab province have the highest ratio of maids employed at homes. Among these, 62 percent of these maids are young, prepubescent girls.

Such cases are relatively under-reported, which is evident in a survey conducted by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It says that 72 percent of child workers are not in contact with their families and 10 percent have no knowledge regarding the whereabouts of their families.

Fayaz Butt, Assistant Director Child Protection and Welfare Punjab (CPWB), told News Lens Pakistan, “The issue of financial compensation in form of ‘hush money’ paid by the abusive party to the underage victim maid’s family is a common thing in Punjab, especially in the urban areas.”

Shabnam Naji, a lawyer and Chairperson Peace Council Pakistan, said while talking to News Lens Pakistan that 20 cases of maids aged between 8-14 years were dealt in Lahore High Court (LHC) in in 2015. These cases were lodged by very young maids who were beaten up with hot iron tools, pliers, sticks or were physically abused.

“In all of these reported cases, 13 victims were thrown at their parents’ doorsteps with a cover up story claiming that the girl was accidentally injured while working and remaining 7 cases revealed that these prepubescent girls were falsely accused of theft.” Out of these 20 cases, 16 cases resulted in the charges by the victim’s family being dropped after recording statements and receiving financial relief from the accused party, she said.

“Currently, I am dealing with three cases of abused prepubescent maids from Multan, Sahiwal and Faisalabad as a petitioner,” she added.

A high-ranked law official in Punjab’s Law Department told News Lens Pakistan on condition of anonymity that four cases involving brutally abused prepubescent maids surfaced in 2015. They succumbed to their injuries while they were admitted at a hospital, as the cases was closed by their families due to compensation money being paid by the accused parties.

CPWB Punjab rescued 12 underage abused maids during 2015 while 2610 underage girls involved in various kinds of labour, majorly household employment were rescued by the bureau since 2005 till January 2016 from Lahore.

Furthermore, 142 helpless girls; some of them were physically assaulted housemaids, have been rescued so far from six districts of Punjab including Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi and Sialkot.

Nazia, a housemaid who was severely injured due to repeated assaults, told News Lens Pakistan, “Baji (Mistress) used to thrash every part of my body, especially the head, neck, chest and arms.”

She said, “After being thrashed, I was unable to work properly due to the pain, and baji would abuse me for that too. I was often tied in a room and beaten with sticks until I felt as if all my bones would shatter.”

“Partly unconscious one day, I was rescued by a woman and three guards from CPWB,” she said.

Nazia showed the plaster on her chest and the unevenly sheared hair on her head. A fresh, pink wound on the scalp was visible. She also had her fractured right elbow in a cast.

The victim, according to Miss Faiqa, Senior Child Psychologist and Principal of Child Protection School of CPWB, was rescued one and a half month ago. She was hospitalised for almost an entire month and was discharged two weeks ago. She further explained, “Her regular medical checkups are being carried out in the hospital of CPWB.”

Nazia Zaib, Manager Child Protection Institution for Girls (CPI) expressed her concerns regarding Nazia’s mental health saying, “She appears to be frightened and distressed most of the time. She does not mingle with the other girls in the hostel, which is not a good sign.”

After meeting the victim’s father, Shaukat Ali, News Lens Pakistan discovered that he had let a man that he did not even know employ his daughter.  He told News Lens Pakistan, “I have incurred a loan of Rs 150,000 from a feudal lord in Jaranwala to find my daughter during the initial four months of her employment, as the employer refused to tell me the address and all requests to talk to my daughter were declined when I repeatedly called them.”

He said amid shrieks, “We almost lost hope for Nazia’s whereabouts when I was contacted by Punjab Child Protection and Welfare Bureau two months ago.”

He expressed his helplessness by saying, “I want my daughter to live here because I cannot bear the expenses of six children; five daughters and a son.” Nazia, on the other hand said that she wants to go home as soon as possible as she misses her mother and siblings.

Another girl Muqaddas, aged 6 years old, was rescued by Child Protection and Welfare Bureau from a house in Iqbal Town. She was from Dholan Chak; a village near Okara. She told News Lens Pakistan at CPWB Punjab’s office, “Aunty (female employer) hit her head and face. She abused me twice with extremely hot pliers.”

These are the two maids rescued by the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau while thousands of other girls with similar stories are helpless. Their families are silenced before their pleas are able to reach the law abiding institutes. Hundreds of cases are reported, but charges are usually dropped before or after the initiation of legal proceedings, which eventually results in the records being buried under several other cases; never to be opened again.

Lawyer Shabnam Naji, while answering the question of unreported cases of hush money said, “We still harbor a feudalistic mentality. Employing prepubescent maids is a common practice; even in comparatively less urbanized cities of Punjab such as Kasur, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Mianwali.”

She said, “ Mutual settlements outside the law enforcing institutions are advantageous for the accused party, since they can silence the poor downtrodden victim’s family by paying Rs. 200,000 to Rs.300,000 as hush money because legal proceedings of prosecution and the fees of defense lawyers end up costing them a lot more, regardless of whether they win or lose.”

Tahir Allah Rakha, Program Manager Child Care foundation of Pakistan, while talking to News Lens Pakistan said that two out of four housemaids are bullied at the very least, or physically assaulted with different tools.

Javed William, President Faces Pakistan, while revealing another aspect of the situation, said, “Very few victims are able to have their pleas heard by law enforcing institutions as the family cannot bear the brunt of the legal proceedings in High Court as the entire process costs them an amount which they cannot afford, thus the terror stricken family of the victim family agrees to ‘hush up’ when offered financial relief by the accused.”

Amira Amjad, a child psychologist and Lecturer of Clinical Psychology in Bahria University Islamabad told News Lens Pakistan, “Fear of exclusion and bad repute in his/her immediate social circle is a major factor which makes rich abusers pay hush money for silent settlements outside the law enforcement agencies.”

She works as the therapist of an abused maid from Vehari, aged 16 years old. She presented the other side of the story by saying, “The family of the abused girl, being downtrodden, is under pressure from various fronts. The most major pressure comes from intimidation, which, psycho-social in its nature, is their own perceived status of helplessness amongst society and fear of the influential abusers.”

Hassan Mushtaq Sukhera, SSP Investigation Lahore, during a telephone conversation with News Lens Pakistan, said that the ease of access to forensic mechanism for accurate evidence evaluation during an investigation is a significant factor which improves the operational and investigative mechanism of Punjab Police. However, the Punjab Police do not have a mechanism that can access unreported cases with no FIR.”

He concluded, “In most cases, the end of the investigation is compromised by the victim’s party either through hush money, or due to intimidation. Owing to various socio-political reasons, Punjab Police is not to be blamed solely as there are other forces at work.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here