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Dhaka Tribune

Torture of domestic workers: Why do cases end midway?

  • 200 cases against 450 torture incidents from 2013-2023 
  • 36 deaths reported in three years 
  • Cases settled with money
Update : 26 Feb 2024, 08:29 PM

The death of the 15-year old domestic help Preeti Urang has once again brought the issue of torture on domestic helps and their getting no justice to the forefront in Bangladesh. 

Many cases of torture on domestic helps are covered up. Even in some cases involving murder, the accused have escaped punishment through negotiations, according to people concerned.

Teenager Preeti Urang, daughter of Moulvibazar’s Lokesh Urang, used to work as a domestic help at the flat of The Daily Star's Executive Editor Syed Ashfaqul Haque in the capital’s Mohammadpur.

She died after falling from the flat on February 6.

Around six months ago, on August 6, 2023, nine-year-old Ferdausi, another domestic help in that household, fell out of the same balcony. Even though Ferdausi did not die, she was severely injured.

Preeti’s father Lokesh Urang filed a case under 304(A) of the Penal Code after her death.

Ashfaqul Haque and his wife Tania Khondoker are now in jail in connection with the case.

Survey on torture and death incidents of domestic helps in Bangladesh 

According to the human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 36 deaths of domestic helps were reported across the country, including Dhaka, in the last three years.

Among them, 90% died due to torture. Some reportedly committed suicide. 

Along with this, 103 torture incidents were reported during this period. But only 69 cases were registered in connection with the murder and torture incidents. 

According to data from ASK, about 450 domestic helps were tortured across the country from 2013-2023. About two hundred cases of torture and unnatural death cases were registered in various police stations in connection with these incidents.

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) Joint Secretary General Syed Sultan Uddin Khan, who works for the rights of domestic helps, said: "Cases of torture and death of domestic helps are actually more in real terms. The numbers we see are based on the information published in the media. Many cases do not come to the media. Sometimes even no case is registered on the torture incident.”

Around 50% of 287 domestic helps who took part in a survey conducted by BILS said they had been subjected to some form of physical or mental torture. 

According to BILS data, more than 95% of the total domestic helps across the country are women and 50% of domestic helps are abused by the house owners. Half of them are children. 

BILS statistics demonstrate that in the 20 years from 2001 to 2020, 1,560 domestic helps across the country suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, injuries, mysterious deaths, suicides and murders.

Among them, 578 domestic helpers died at their workplaces.

No example of getting justice 

Abul Hossain, convener of The Domestic Helps Rights Network, said that the experience of justice in cases of torture and death of domestic helps is agonizing. 

“If the case is filed, the evidence remains very weak as the plaintiffs are more influential than the domestic helps. They can easily influence the police. As a result, the case remains unfinished. 

In some cases, settlements are made in exchange of money or applying pressure. 

As a result, the families of victims do not get any justice. 

"We have provided legal assistance to 20-25 domestic helps and their families who were tortured. But even after being provided with legal assistance, they did not get justice in the cases. This was because it was not possible to run the cases till the end as there were settlements midway.”

Negotiation with families luring money 

As the cases of crimes like murder and torture in Bangladesh are not negotiable under the existing law, Supreme Court lawyer Ishrat Jahan was asked in this regard. 

She said: "It is done outside the court. It has various tricks. First of all, the investigation of the case is delayed. In the meantime, the family of the domestic help who is killed or tortured becomes normal. They are poor. So they are lured by money. Then they don't show any interest in the case. They don't go to testify. Then the case is dismissed."

Syed Sultan Uddin Khan said: "Even if someone wants to fight the case, it is of no use because then other witnesses are influenced."

According to the latest Labour Force Survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there are now 2.5 million domestic helps across the country. A large proportion of them are women. 

According to the National Child Labour Survey, there are 125,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 who work as domestic helps in the country. And 80% of them are girls.

Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015

The policy was made in 2015. But that is not a law. Therefore, their salary, working environment, working hours, age, and employment are not covered by the law. They also have no right to form trade unions.

An organization called "Bangladesh Working Women" also works with domestic help. 

Coordinator of the organization Nargis Akhter Nila said: "Domestic helps are subjected to torture in the house of the landlord. As they live there alone, they cannot even protest the torture.”

And if there is a case, there is no witness for her except herself. As a result, there is more torture here, said Nila.

Abul Hossain said that it is very difficult to get justice for domestic helps without state protection. Therefore, they need legal assistance and other protection from the government."

Only one example of trial 

There is only one example of a trial in the last few years. 

On September 23, 2013, 11-year-old child domestic help Aduri was tortured and thrown into a dustbin in the DOHS area of Mirpur’s Pallabi area in the capital.

 In this incident, the homemaker Nowreen Jahan and her mother Ishrat Jahan were arrested by the police. 

Four years after the incident, on July 18, 2017, the court sentenced Nowreen Jahan to life imprisonment and fined her TK1 lakh. 

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