Md Sazedul Islam
A Rab team rescued female domestic help, Sathi (8), who was injured by her employer, from a flat in the capital's Uttara.
According to a newspaper report, the team, being tipped-off, also arrested housewife Salma Akhter (40), wife of Mostofa Zaman, a contractor of Rajuk.
Sathi was produced before a press conference at the elite force headquarters in Uttara soon after her rescue. She showed marks of burn injuries in her body, marks of beatings in legs, hands and shoulders.
When asked, Sathi said her father Kalam Khan of Barisal, and mother, a garment worker, left her to the house three months back.
This is not an isolated incident. Domestic workers are falling victim to inhuman tortures perpetrated by their employers across the country.
The domestic workers had been aiding in different domestic works since long. They perform many works at their employer's house from morning till night. But there is no law, rule, inspection system for the round-the-clock service provided by domestic workers. They have no registration and identity card.
It is unknown when the domestic works first started in our society. But it is a matter of regret that this profession has been neglected. A huge number of domestic workers were not recognised as workers. Till now, no effective step has been taken to fix their wages and protect their rights.
Their contribution was not evaluated in the national income. The issue of workers' rights was mentioned in the declaration of universal human rights and matter of rights has been recognised in our constitution.
As they are kept outside the purview of the Labour Law 2006, they are being deprived of enjoying different rights and facing different tortures on different excuses. They are not safe even staying at home environment and both their physical and mental growths are being hampered.
In recent years, harassment and torture on child domestic workers increased alarmingly. Most of victims don't get justice in the court. The accused in the cases force the victim's guardians to withdraw the cases.
Quoting published newspaper reports, Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) said 797 incidents of inhuman torture on domestic workers took place in the last 10 years. Of them, 398 died of torture, 299 were wounded and 100 others faced other forms of torture.
Most of those who work as domestic workers at residential places are adolescent girls and boys. It is tough to determine their actual number because of lack of registration. Most of the workers are girl children. The torture on the domestic workers is rising day by day and its mode is also changing, said Domestic Workers Rights Network (DWRN).
According to baseline survey, 2007 of ILO and UNICEF, there are a total of 420,000 child domestic workers (aged 6-17 years) in Bangladesh.
According to the baseline survey, 2007 of ILO and UNICEF, the Dhaka City Corporation area has 147,000 child domestic workers (aged 6-17 years).
The domestic workers have been kept outside the purview of labour law. Hence, there is no standard relating to their wages, fixed working hours and leave. The helpless and poor workers cannot place allegations against offenders and file cases if they are victim of any injustice.
Recently, torture on domestic workers and killing reached an alarming proportion. News reports of such incidents perpetrated on helpless rural adolescent girls do not come out of wall of those houses as the incidents remain suppressed due to lack of registration and inspection.
No effective initiative has been taken so far to address their problems. The helpless families do not have courage and ability and do not get state assistance in running cases against the influential oppressors. Hence, the cases are being lost.
Though the number of the workers is rising day by day, no effective steps were taken for protecting their rights as workers such as fixation of their wages and recognition as workers.
Being poor, illiterate and helpless, the domestic workers failed to organise themselves to highlight their issue.
Many organisations in our country also failed to highlight the issue of the poor workers though a large portion of our population are facing injustice.
As the domestic workers remain unorganised and their rights remain neglected. Domestic Workers Rights Network (DWRN) took up programmes to organise them in order to establish their rights.
Such programmes were not arranged by any quarter earlier.
Ten associate organisations of DWRN arranged rallies, protest meetings and human chains at different parts of the capital. Jatiya Sramik Federation Bangladesh (JSFB) held programmes at Pallabi, Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik Federation (BJSF) at Badda, Sipahibagh, Bangladesh Sramik Federation (BSF) at Mirpur-1 Staff Quarters, Bangladesh Labour Federation (BLF) at Moghbazar, Madhubagh, Jatiya Sramik League (JSL) at Hajaribagh, Jigatala, Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD) at Moghbazar-Tejgaon, Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra (BTUK) at Khilgaon, Jatiya Sramik Jote (JSJ) at Jurain, Postogola, Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik Jote (BJSJ) at Jatrabari, Jurain and National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU) at Kamlapur, Malibagh.
They have been holding rallies, human chains and other programmes in the last six months demanding establishment of the rights of the domestic workers.
The domestic workers have become organised and aware of their rights thanks to those programmes.
While attending meetings, the domestic workers shared their problems, which helped them redress their problems.
With the assistance of DWRN, instant protest programme was arranged in case of any torture on any worker. Local people also took part in the protest programme.
The programmes raised social awareness and organised the domestic workers who now feel that they have support to their causes. Being aware, local people came to the streets demanding punishment to the oppressors.
DWRN provided the victim workers with necessary medical and legal supports and also shared different rights-related publications.
According to DWRN, it is not possible to change the situation without strong supervision of the state especially registration for domestic workers, bringing them under Labour Law and giving exemplary punishment to those who tortured the workers.
The government should take steps for halting oppression, including the domestic workers under Labour Law, taking steps for registration, introducing inspection system, launching impartial investigation into killings and torture and giving exemplary punishment, conducting cases of workers at the expense of the government, not to settle cases by flouting criminal law, monitoring progress of the cases with administrative initiative, quick implementation of 'Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2010', and ratification of ILO Convention (No 189) titled 'Decent works for domestic workers'.
DWRN hoped that it will be possible to establish the rights of the domestic workers with combined and sincere efforts of all concerned.
There is no doubt that country's gross domestic product (GDP) and income would be increased if the domestic labour is brought under legal structure. There is no alternative to their legal protection to ensure the life and livelihood and human rights of the domestic workers, who form a large part of population.
The writer is a journalist