Last week I went to Dolmen Mall, Clifton. After a fairly satisfactory shopping trip, as I was returning to my car, I noticed something odd. I saw a little girl (a child ‘maid’) crouching on the floor against one of the pillars of the basement parking. Next to her was a driver, (pretty old all white hair and beard) standing next to a car.
I’m sure all Karachiites reading this post are familiar with the mall and its basement parking area. Even on a good day the place is pretty hot because of all the cars and ducts etc. This little girl looked not more than nine years old, emaciated; and she donned a dupatta on her head. Her face was awash with fear and it seemed she was trying very hard to appear inconspicuous. I noticed her, tried not to stare and my legs carried me away from her towards my car. Suddenly, and almost involuntarily I turned around and questioned the driver about her. Asked him if he was with her and why she is sitting there.
In a complaining tone he told me that the ‘Baji’ had gone shopping and he was instructed to stand next to the car (as opposed to the Drivers’ Seating area, equipped with an air conditioner and television) to guard it. And the girl had to be with him. My questioning the driver seemed to make the girl uncomfortable who probably didn’t understand what I was talking about. I just said ‘ye sahih nahin’ (this isn’t right) and walked away. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I felt downright awful for her. She was so tiny, sitting on the floor in such close range of massive cars coming in and out, so easy to overlook. The heat, the exhaust fumes from all the cars, the hard concrete floor, the unfamiliar, complaining driver there to guard her- she accepted this as her fate and sat cowering in fear in that miserable place.
To the ‘Baji’ who had gone shopping inside leaving this girl behind:
- I am judging you. I don’t like to judge and everyone needs to be given the benefit of the doubt, but I am judging you. Yeah you may have five children and this sixth one may be too tough to manage. If so, leave her at home. Leave her alone at home with food and water and a fan, but not this. She may be too unsightly and the rags you put on her may be too embarrassing to display in front of your diamond-clad, designer-donned Playdate mommies. That’s your problem, not hers.
- I am not even getting into the issue of child labor. She is someone’s daughter, someone’s flesh and blood, who has perhaps a dozen mouths to feed and in desperation handed her to you, so they may get 10-12k a month (a paltry sum for you but a lottery for them). She is now your responsibility- treat her nice, clothe her well, teach her a thing or two. If nothing else, at least be wary of karma, it may come bite you in the ass.
- If you chose to drag her all the way and can’t take her along when your obese offspring is wolfing down plasticky McDonalds, then at least let her sit in the Driver’s Waiting Area or at least near the entrance, with a bottle of water. Not on the basement floor, vulnerable and scared.
I wish I could I have done something for her. I really don’t know what, but something. I really hope some of you reading this may change your mind about child labor. It’s very real and very disturbing. Let’s vow to put an end to it. Have the courage to speak to your friends who have young maids. Yeah your friendship may get tainted, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you made a difference in at least one little life?
Take care lovelies xo