Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 1 November 2020

Zohra Shah: Pakistani girl, 8, killed after freeing expensive parrots from cage

Outrage and calls for justice sweep country after child was tortured to death

A general view of the crowded Raja Bazar is seen during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Rawalpindi on May 5, 2020. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)
A general view of the crowded Raja Bazar is seen during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Rawalpindi on May 5, 2020. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

A girl, 8, was tortured to death in Pakistan after accidentally freeing expensive parrots from their cage.

Zohra Shah, an unpaid domestic labourer, was killed in an affluent neighbourhood of Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s fourth-largest city.

The incident stirred debate on Twitter on Wednesday where many people, including politicians, demanded justice for the girl.

After allegedly committing the violence, those who she worked for took the girl to hospital, where staff confirmed signs of torture.

Police said on Monday they received information that Zohra died of her injuries despite receiving treatment at the city’s Begum Akhtar Rukhsana Memorial Hospital.

On Monday, a man told police that his wife beat Zohra because she freed the pet parrots.

The girl came from Muzaffargarh, a district in southern Punjab about 580 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad.

Four months ago, Zohra began working for the family of Hasan Siddiqui and his wife Umm Kulsoom.

Hassan Siddiqui, the alleged killer of 8-year-old Zohra Shah, at a police station in Rawalpindi. Twitter/ @RwpPolice
Hassan Siddiqui, the alleged killer of 8-year-old Zohra Shah, at a police station in Rawalpindi. Twitter/ @RwpPolice

The victim’s family sent the girl to live and work for the pair, so she would receive a good education.

“We have arrested the couple and they confessed to their crime and were sent on remand for four days until June 6," police officer Mukhtar Ahmed, who investigated the case, told The National.

"Siddiqui kicked the girl in her private parts and there were bruises on her entire body and she was bleeding.”

Pakistan's Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, wrote on Twitter that her ministry had been in touch with the police, was following the case and was proposing reforms to domestic labour laws.

Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan Shireen Mazari delivers a speech at the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session on February 25, 2020 in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan Shireen Mazari delivers a speech at the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session on February 25, 2020 in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The International Labour Organisation estimates there are at least 8.5 million domestic workers in Pakistan, many of whom are women or children.

The plight of tens of thousands of child workers in the country is alarming.

They are hired through their parents on a yearly or a monthly basis and violence against them is common across Pakistan.

In January last year, Uzma, 16, was murdered in the eastern city of Lahore by those she worked for because she ate some of their food.

Last year, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act to regulate domestic labour and register employees.

But activists say the law has many flaws and needs to be addressed.

“Still large numbers of domestic workers in Punjab are not registered, doing unpaid work and children are being tortured to death,” Arooma Shahzad, general secretary of the Domestic Workers Union, told The National.

"The registered domestic workers have not received any social security cards from the government. The government needs to promptly resolve their issues."

Osama Malik, a labour and child rights lawyer in Islamabad, said Pakistan had ratified ILO conventions on child labour and there were local laws enacted in all provinces and territories.

"But the 2019 US State Department Human Rights Report in March this year damningly states that child labour remains pervasive, with many children working in agriculture and domestic work," Mr Malik said.

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Updated: June 10, 2020 01:42 PM

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