| October 11th, 2006

Tale of a Little Girl

With a heavy heart I am writing today about Madhabi. She is a little 6/7 year old girl used to work as a domestic worker for a well off and so Madhabi (The Daily Star)called educated family in Dhaka. She has been brutally tortured by her employer and now she is fighting for her life in a hospital bed. The story has been published in Star Weeknd Magazene.

While many of the families treat their domestic workers very well, many others are no better than Madhabi’s employer. This is an extreme case, but who knows how many are there we don’t hear about.

There might be many psychological reasons why people are cruel to other people; but it is true that the lack of proper legal action is one of the biggest reasons that are encouraging many to continue the act of cruelty towards their household workers. It is not only the physical abuse, think of this: your employer is constantly yelling at you, very seldom you get a break from your work, how would you feel?

I would encourage our readers to give it a though and come up with suggestions on how to improve this.


No Responses to “Tale of a Little Girl”

  1. A large number of children and young women work as domestic-help in Bangladesh. They live and work with urban families often in complete isolation. Practically they are on duty twenty-four hours and seven days a week.

    Their parents and/or guardians usually live in rural areas and do not have the means to keep in touch with their children on a regular basis. There is no organization or union to oversee their welfare or to bargain for them. These children are completely at the mercy of their employers. Their situation makes them vulnerable to abuse. An oversight program for these child-laborers is essential to protect their human rights.

    A young woman came to the police station with three angry men. She sat on the cement floor in her wet cloth. She was crying and shivering from fear and from cold.

    The men were talking with the police. They were talking in emotional shrill voices, interrupting each other. Their angry faces were showing their frustrations and maybe their helplessness. The police officer stayed calm and sincerely listened to them. It did not take him very long to figure out the problem. He turned to the girl and asked her to show her palm. The palms of both hands were severely scalded. He asked her name and age. She mumbled. Her name was Zamila and she was fourteen years old.

    Zamila worked for a wealthy family in one of the most respectable areas of Dhaka. The mother and the daughter of the rich family both mistreated Zamila for any small mistake. She wanted to leave and that made the family very hostile toward her. They decided to teach her a lesson scalding her both hands with hot water. Then they put a lock on the door to make sure she cannot run away. One day the mother and daughter went out. They locked Zamila in the apartment from outside. Zamila climbed down four floors from the balcony of the house. There was a lake adjacent to the property. Zamila swam across the lake and reached a slum (basti) on the other side of the lake, where she contacted police with the help of local men.

    The police officer asked her few questions. In a of hours police came and arrested the mother and daughter. It was an occasion of victory for the legal system (law against women and children repression) and for Zalima. But what happens to the hundreds of Zamilas who cannot escape the torturous environment; who do not meet decent caring people to take them to the police? They remain invisible. Some of these children’s names appear in the newspaper as missing, wounded or dead, but by the time things have gone too far.

    Everybody knows that child-labor is wrong. All children need to go to school and become better citizens and capable labor force for the future. Children are the future of a society.

    However, under present economic and social conditions, elimination of the child-labor in many developing countries would not be possible. Introducing guidelines and obligations for the employers and establishing a system to monitor these child-laborers would be a more realistic approach.

    These children who work in households need to be registered. Registration and monitoring could be done through a Non Government Organization (NGO) or Government organization. During registration employers need to be informed about the basic guidelines and their obligation to send the children to school. Guidelines will inform the employer about the amount of work and kind of work a child should do. This would be an opportunity to educate employers about children and women anti repression law and the consequence of child abuse. As the children would be required to go to school, the NGO could work with the local schools.

    Doing this, employment of children in house holds could turn into a system that is equivalent to the fostered parenting in the west. In most of the developed countries some kinds of foster parenting system exists for children without capable parent or guardian. The children live with the foster-families, under the supervision of a child-welfare organization. Foster family is reimbursed for the expenses. In the case of developing country child-laborers would work for the family and thus cover their expenses.

    We are proposing to the Governments to establish an organization to register and monitor all children who work as domestic help.

  2. Sharmin Islam says:

    I really like your proposal, i.e., to establish an organization that will register and monitor all children in Bangladesh who work as domestic help. I also think that domestic workers need paid vacation days off just like people who work in other fields who have a certain number of paid vacation days off each year from their employer to recharge their batteries. In our country, domestic child labourers are working almost 24/7 without even getting any weekends off, unlike their employers who get to relax and take a break at least two days out of the week from their own jobs. I think that is a great injustice. Human beings are not robots, especially children. Therefore, I propose that in addition to having an established organization that will monitor all children who work as domestic help, that the organization should have strict laws that make it the family’s responsibility to provide regular paid vacation days as well as routine health and medical care to their domestic workers. There should also be laws set to punish those employers who abuse their domestic workers. Just because they have the money does not mean that they can get away with such a horrible crime.

    My question is, how do you get our government to establish such an organization? I don’t live in Bangladesh, but is their anything that I can do from abroad to expedite this process?

  3. RK says:

    Great ideas. One crucial problem: how many households do you think will actually take time out to register? Can the government pass a law making it mandatory, and more importantly, will there be enough manpower to “enforce” this law? Just passing a law is not good enough. It’s only half the work. Actually enforcing it takes time, and a lot of effort.

    If you have an abusive household, do you think they will really go out of their way to register? With such a high level of poverty in the country, do you think some families will be willing to give up their children without registering them first?

    I visited Bangladesh not too long ago and it broke my heart to see how humans of the same race and culture can be so inhumane towards each other just because of social status. Social reform is necessary but where is the most effective, reasonable, and logical place to start?

  4. Nazia says:

    I must compliment all of your ideas. But it’s easier said than done. It’s very easy to sit thousands of miles away giving suggestions, and to occasionally visit Dhaka and only notice the negatives.

    Then again it’s natural to point the negatives, how else will they be turned into positive initiatives? Although the idea of an organization, registering domestic child laborers (they should register every child laborer be it domestic or construction, garments or any other labor) seem very noble, as RK said it’s crucial to actually establish such an organization. And expecting our government to take the initiative is also quite unrealistic. On the other hand the NGO’s can make an effort to control this situation, and I’m sure some of them already have projects and programs in favor of domestic workers.

    I would like to introduce another way of controlling this situation which has been in practice for a very well known development organization in Dhaka. The organization has a rule (in their organization’s policy) that employees with domestic child workers have to provide sufficient time for rest and must make sure that they get education either at a community night school or at home under supervision of the employer.

    Before we can establish an organization working for these poor souls, maybe if every organization set certain policies like this, the current situation can be controlled a bit.

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Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more



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