Domestic workers are subjected to inhuman treatment by their owners around the world as if they were born to endure all sorts of sufferings. In Bangladesh almost every day we see in the dailies that domestic workers undergo physical and mental abuse.
In most cases, the intensity of cruelty on them is so horrific. Evidently, across the country many more cruelties the domestic workers are facing but these are not unearthed.
The horrific reports of the employers’ inhuman torture upon the helpless domestic workers seem never-ending. It is true that the exact figure of domestic workers in the country is yet to be addressed. However, the Bangladesh Labour Force Survey of 2017 claimed that there were 1.3 million domestic workers in the country, of whom 80% were female. On top of that, a great portion of them were children workers. As per the base line survey conducted in 2006 by ILO-UNICEF revealed that in the country there were around 421,426 child domestic workers.
Certainly, over the years the figure of the domestic workers has increased. The report of 2020 estimates that there are over 2 million people working as domestic labours, of whom the majority are women and children. A study conducted by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) in between 2008 to 2011 reported that at least 2709 violence incidents occurred against the domestic workers, of whom 729 workers were succumbed to death by the brutality of their employers. Again, the media sources have exposed that from January to May this year at least 18 house helps were tortured in the country.
Besides, the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum revealed that between 2013 and 2018, 25 child domestic workers were killed, 45 died or committed suicide and 29 were raped. In many cases the ill-fated domestic workers faced fatalities by their employers but in all cases the employers claimed their deaths as suicide.
It arises more frustration when we see that the perpetrators can see scopes to prove themselves acquitted. It is obvious that reports of the dailies exposed in different times have revealed the tragic incidents of the domestic helps but time has come merely not to count the fatalities rather be urgent to find out the ways to save the domestic helps.
According to the ILO, domestic worker refers to “any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.” Domestic work is defined as work performed in or for a household or households. The domestic workers may be full time or part time employees. They may live in employers’ houses or in their own houses. Again they may be migrants and nationals of the country where they work in.
Domestic workers work hard from dawn to mid night. Their works include the service to all family members. Everybody in the family is highly dependent on the service of the domestic helps. But nobody cares whether the servicing person is sick or tired of works. Their role in daily life management is very significant but in most cases, they are not treated as human beings in the family and society.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, not only domestic workers in the country but also others who work as domestic workers abroad undergo various ill-treatments by their employers. Again, they are bearing the brunt of it due to their informal working status.
It is obvious that national and international NGOs and volunteer organizations along with local and international stakeholders have been raising their voices over the years to eliminate the brutality against the domestic helps.
In 2011, the International Labour Conference adopted the Domestic Workers’ Convention No. 189. This initiative was taken to recognize domestic workers as workers with rights like others working in various sectors. Bangladesh is one of the signatory countries in the ILO Convention. But the country has not been yet to ratify the ILO convention.
More often labour rights groups and activists raise their voices to urge the government to approve the Convention No. 189 to uphold the rights of the domestic workers in the country. On top of that, many claim that through ratifying the ILO convention, apart from protecting the rights of the domestic workers, it will save the workers working abroad.
Also, it was directed by the Court that the child domestic workers of Bangladesh between the ages of 14-18 should be incorporated automatically within the provisions of the Labour Act 2006 considering the rights of the domestic workers in the country. But how far the initiative has been effective still raises debates?
However, undoubtedly it is a good initiative by the government to approve the draft of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy in 2015. The policy includes the rights of the domestic workers to access welfare benefits. Again, it recognizes their rights to a decent wage and rest and leisure time.
It also corresponds that children (under 14) should not be engaged in domestic work. There is a direction to establish inspection teams to protect the domestic workers as well as to ensure their access to police and state support in the event of abuse. But a law has not been enacted yet based on the policy. Even minimum wage of the domestic workers has not been fixed over the times which falls the domestic workers into worsening situation.
Experts opine that the abuse of domestic workers and the engagement of child labour are increasing due to lack of a specific law and lax implementation of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy, 2015. Apart from this, in many cases the victims’ families dare not seek actions against the abusive employers due to their poor background.
To this end, it is necessary to give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators by the law to protect the vulnerable domestic helps. It is more imperative to make the domestic workers aware of their rights. Besides, the victimized domestic workers must be rescued and rehabilitated by the state.
The writer teaches at Prime University. He is also a research scholar at the IBS. Email: [email protected]