The number of domestic workers is increasing in line with the economic development of the people of Bangladesh. Economically affluent families find domestic workers to do daily jobs for a comfortable life.
In 2016, Shahadat Hossain, a cricketer of Bangladesh's national team, was charged with torturing a maid. Prosecutors said that doctors had found evidence that the abused domestic worker had many signs of torture on her body. But the child domestic worker later came to the court and testified that she was not tortured.
According to a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, 149 domestic workers were killed and another 147 were seriously injured in the country between 2014 and 2016. Most of the victims were women and children. However, as there are no reliable statistics on domestic workers, there are differences between the data of local and international organisations.
In 2015, the government formulated the "Protection and Welfare Policy for Domestic Workers". Besides, now, every year, June 16 is celebrated as the "International Domestic Workers' Day".
According to the domestic worker protection policy, children under the age of 14 cannot be employed as domestic workers and the wages of full-time domestic workers must be fixed in such a way that they can live with their family, maintaining their respective social status.
According to the policy, the working hours of every domestic worker should be fixed in such a way that he or she gets satisfactory sleep, rest, recreation, and necessary leave. No domestic worker may be employed while ill and the employer must take responsibility for the domestic worker's treatment.
Domestic workers should never be subjected to indecent, physical, or mental abuse. Besides, if you want to remove a domestic worker from the job, you have to inform them one month in advance or if you fire them immediately, you have to pay one month's wages.
In this situation, for the implementation of this welfare policy, especially in urban areas, initiatives can be taken at the field level with the help of the councilors of city corporations and municipalities or such people's representatives.
However, to stop the abuse of domestic workers, this protection policy should include legal obligation with the provision of severe punishment.
In the first eight months of this year (January-October), 32 domestic workers were subjected to various forms of torture, according to the Law and Arbitration Center (LASC). Eleven of them were killed, eight of them were raped, some were also victims of acid attacks. But only 15 cases were filed in these incidents. There have also been cases of suicide among the tortured domestic workers.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) report on deficits in domestic work in Bangladesh, more than 90 percent of those who work as domestic workers across the country, including Dhaka, are women. More than half of them are minors or under 18 years of age. The survey found that most of those killed, tortured, and raped were between the ages of 13 and 18.
There are also 7 to 12-year-old children who work as domestic workers. According to the ILO, 97 percent of domestic workers in Bangladesh are women and almost all of the remaining three percent are males under 18 years of age.
The presence of a policy has not been able to reduce torture. In most cases, domestic workers are forced to compromise in exchange for money.
There are also difficulties in finding evidence of torture, which is destroyed beforehand. So, the policy is not effective in this regard. There needs to be a government support cell to help domestic workers which will receive complaints, provide legal aid.
The domestic worker's do not fall under the purview of the Labour Act, 2006. So, to protect the rights of domestic workers, they should be treated as workers of other sectors first. It is time for all concerned to give importance to this issue and enact legislation.
The enactment of the Prevention and Protection of Domestic Violence Act will ensure the rights of domestic workers.
The author is a student studying Law & Human Rights at University of Asia Pacific.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.