Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Unending cruelty to domestic workers!

Physical torture and sexual violence against domestic helps continued unabated across the country, especially in the capital, as the perpetrators go unpunished in most cases due to loopholes in law.

Domestic helps are falling victims to physical and mental torture in different parts of the country every day. They are also subjected to rape.

However, most of the victims opt not to file any case against the torturers as they do not have the financial capacity to run the long legal battle.

Although cases are filed in a few cases, the perpetrators who are influential force the poor and helpless victims to make a compromise in exchange for money or through muscle power.

Besides, many cases have remained pending with courts for years, depriving the victims of justice.

Assistant Professor Md Tawohidul Haque of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research at Dhaka University told the Daily Sun that the incidents of violence against housemaids are not decreasing in the country as the victims do not get justice and exemplary punishment is not meted out to the torturers. In this case, the victims and their families as well as those involved in the entire process have to play a strong role, he said.

“We need to change our mindset and attitude. We need to extend our hand of sympathy to the victims. And that’s why it’s not possible to stop the torture of domestic workers by enforcing the law alone. For that, we need a human mindset and human vision. And that human mindset and attitude can greatly reduce the rate of violence from our society and state,” he added.

Domestic workers are subjected to various forms of physical, mental and sexual abuse and exploitation. Trafficking also occurs in certain cases. Incidents of physical abuse such as slapping, kicking and punching, not providing enough food for domestic helps and not allowing them to sleep enough take place frequently.

On the other hand, abusive language, calling by different names, mockery of family identity and neglect etc are common occurrences of mental torture. There are also cases of rape and sexual harassment, and even death as a result of torture. Many are committing suicide, too.

Although the government formulated a policy in 2015 for the protection and welfare of domestic workers, it has not yet been implemented.

Advocate Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA), said, “We haven’t seen a single case so far where punishment has been meted out to the perpetrators.”

“Neglected poor domestic helps should be brought under a single rule. Their work should be scheduled, they should be given satisfactory food and there should be arrangement for their enough sleep, rest and treatment. The domestic helps should be given the scope of entertainment,” she added.

According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 383 domestic helps were tortured from 2013 to 2020. Of them, 176 died for torture and unknown reasons.

However, only 171 cases were filed in connection with the incidents.

From January to June this year, 25 domestic helps fell victims to torture and two of them died. Seventeen cases were filed in connections with the incidents.

ASK conducted the survey based solely on newspaper reports. However, the actual figure will be much more than it.

According to a report of the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (NGCAF), 813 women were raped and 112 girls were sexually harassed in the last eight months from January to September this year.

At the same time, 140 people were abducted and trafficked. Among them are many domestic workers.

Nur Khan, a human rights activist and former executive director of ASK, said, “Although there’s a law (to protect domestic helps), it’s not effective. And because of the influential people, many incidents of torture don’t come to light at all.”

“There should be a government support cell to receive complaints from domestic workers and provide them with all assistance, including legal one. There should be easy arrangements so that they can lodge complaints at the cell. Then the situation might improve somewhat.”

Analysing the data of the Police Headquarters, it was found that female employers are directly involved in most of the murders and torture of domestic workers across the country, including in the capital. Sometimes these helpless domestic workers are being tortured and raped by the landlords or children and relatives of the landlords.

On June 12 last, police rescued a housemaid from a house in the capital’s Uttara area after a call was made at the National Emergency Services ‘999’. The neck and back of the housemaid named Niyasa Akhter, 18, were found scalded.

Police said her body was burnt by pouring boiling rice starch on it. House owner’s daughter Tajina Akhter was arrested in connection with the incident.

In Chandpur, a university student raped a domestic help for a year in the absence of his working parents. The aggrieved domestic worker sought justice more than once. But she was harassed on various charges.

After failing to get justice, the 24-year-old domestic worker tried to commit suicide in May last. She was later rescued by police.

On October 18, the body of a teenage domestic worker was found hanging from the toilet of a house in Bhola district. On October 12, the hanging body of a young housemaid was recovered from a house in the capital’s Kalabagan area.

 On September 7, the wife of a sub-inspector of Dhaka-based detective policeman was arrested for allegedly torturing a teenage domestic worker in Natore.

However, most of the torture incidents remain uncounted while only a few victims take recourse to law. Besides, the trial proceedings in these cases are very slow.

There are no statistics about the exact number of domestic helps in the country.

According to the estimate of legal aid and human rights organisation ASK, there are 2.5 million domestic helps in the country. But other organisations say the number will be around 2 million.

According to a study of International Labour Organization (ILO), 97 percent of domestic helps in Bangladesh are females. And the rest 3 percent are males with almost all of them being children. More than half of female domestic workers are minors or under 18 years of age.

UNICEF says 70 percent of the country’s children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 12 are sexually abused, including many domestic workers.