Eleven-year-old Aduri was found in a city dustbin with cut and burn marks all over her body on September 23, 2013. She had just come from Joinokathi village in Patuakhali district in search of domestic work.
Investigators said she was dumped in the dustbin at Baridhara DOHS after apparent torture by the woman who employed her. Nearly four years later, a Dhaka court has sentenced her former employer Nowrin Jahan Nadi to life imprisonment and Taka 1 lakh fine.
Nowrin Jahan’s conviction on Tuesday is a rare case of the law taking its course in a society where violence against child domestic workers routinely goes unpunished.
According to human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 40 domestic workers died in 2016 as a result of alleged physical violence perpetrated by employers. Of them, 23 were aged 18 or under. In 2015, 32 domestic workers died under similar circumstances where 13 were minors aged 7-12 and 15 were aged 13-18.
Statistics compiled by human rights groups show that from January 2013 to May 2017, 65 child domestic workers were tortured, 21 were raped, 21 were killed, and 30 committed suicide.
Few cases went to court, let alone resulting in a conviction.
Child rights experts said majority of child domestic workers are minor girls, aged six to seventeen, who are directly sent from their villages to urban areas by poor parents who want to turn their economic burden into a source of income.
This leaves them uniquely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by wealthy and powerful employers.
According to the Labour Law, children aged 14 or above can work limited hours in non-hazardous occupations.
However, the National Child Labour Survey 2013 has estimated that there are 3.45 million working children between the ages of 5 to 7, among them 1.70 million are between 5 to 11 years old who cannot have permission to work at all.
Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) stated in a research report that suicide and mysterious deaths of child domestic workers has increased since 2015.
According to BSAF, suicidal cases of child domestic workers rose significantly after media reports of widespread violence against child workers surfaced in recent years. Many cases of murder were disguised as suicide, the NGO said.
Poor that’s why they can be tortured or killed
The death of 13-year-old Rajon, who had just entered his teen years, and the manner in which he was killed, shocked the nation in 2015. Accused of theft, Rajon was beaten to death while the brutal beating was filmed.
A Sylhet court has sentenced four people including the prime accused Kamrul to death for killing Rajon which was among the quickest murder trials in the country’s history.
In the same year, Md Rakibul Islam, 12, was viciously killed by three adults who pumped air through the child’s rectum because he had left employment at their garage and taken up a job elsewhere. Robiul Awal, a madrassa student, was beaten to death after he was suspected of stealing fish.
Right Activists said child workers are treated as virtual slaves and their families often lack the financial means to seek legal redress against powerful employers – a situation that leads to virtual impunity for child abusers.
Abdullah Al Mamun, programme coordinator of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said a change in mindset can help to improve the situation.
He said, “People have a common mindset to treat the domestic workers as slaves. They can beat them whenever they want and punish them brutally because of their helpless situation.”
“Here we need to change our mindset while society needs more preventive measures instead of protective thinking,” he added.