The Daily Star reported on December 15 how a 13-year-old domestic helper, Ruby, was frequently brutally tortured by her employers. According to a case filed against them, several parts of her skin were burned, while the doctor who was treating her found bruises and scars on her back and face.
In one instance, she was beaten so badly that she fainted. When taken to a nearby hospital, her situation was such that the hospital refused to treat her, understandably fearing legal trouble, and alerted the police. Only then did her ordeal come to light. Over the last few years, this newspaper reported on numerous such cases of extreme brutality against minor housemaids. Regrettably, nothing has so far managed to stop this kind of abuse.
The nature of the work of a housemaid is very informal, making it hard to regulate, leaving the workers without any legal protection. And the victims of brutality are often those who are underage, defenceless, stay confined to the employers' house and come from needy families and rural areas. More often than not, the victim's family is reluctant to pursue a legal battle and settle the matter out of the court.
Barely any steps have been taken to enforce existing laws that outlaw child labour, including underage children who work as domestic help. The state, too, has failed to make this issue a priority. The Labour Act 2013 (amended) has fixed the minimum age for admission to work at 14 years, but it unfortunately leaves domestic workers out of its purview. Furthermore, the Domestic Workers' Protection and Welfare Policy does not cover child domestic workers above 12 years of age. There is a clear lack of harmonisation of laws. The government should ratify the ILO convention 138 which has specific guidelines in terms of determining the minimum age for work. And most importantly, strict implementation of the law is needed to protect the rights of these children.