Eight-year-old Pakistani maid 'beaten to death by employers for letting parrots out of cage'

Ben Farmer
Pakistan boy Ahmid, (8), cleans onions to be sold at a market in Rawalpindi, on the outskirts of capital Islamabad on November 13, 2009. Officially, Pakistan admits its 3.3 million children are at work helping their economically crippled families to survive but independent analysts say this figure is much higher.  - AFP

An eight-year-old child maid was allegedly beaten to death by her employers for releasing their prized parrots from a cage, in a case which has caused outcry in Pakistan.

Zohra Shah opened the cage to feed the birds on Sunday, only for the birds to fly away. Her enraged employers at the home in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, are accused of beating her unconscious before dumping her at a nearby hospital. She died of her injuries.

A preliminary police case said Zohra had been alive when taken to the hospital with injuries to her face, hands, abdomen and legs.

Police said the couple were arrested the same day and the husband admitted he and his wife had beaten Zohra after she let his "expensive pet parrots escape from their cage". They have been remanded in custody.

The death reignited the issue of the exploitation of child labour and domestic servants in the country. Zohra from Punjab's Kot Addu city had begun work for the unnamed couple four months ago, to take care of their one-year-old child, police said. The couple had promised to provide the girl an education.

Pakistan has huge numbers of children at work, and according to a 2018 report by the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan (HRCP) some 12 million are employed.

The abuse of young domestic staff has made the news before. Earlier this year, in another notorious case, the Supreme Court set aside the extended three-year sentence against a former judge and his wife who were convicted for torturing their 10-year-old maid Tayyaba.

Shireen Mazari, Pakistan's minster for human rights, said she was following the case. The government favoured amending the law to class domestic labour as a hazardous occupation for children, she said. The Employment of Children’s Act 1991 prohibits employing children under 14 years of age in unsafe and hazardous environments such as factories, carpet industries and mines.

“In the absence of a proper law to protect domestic labour, this is the quickest way to protect children,” Dr Mazari told Dawn newspaper. Sharmila Faruqi, a leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, said: “The barbarity of this is sickening.”