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No law to stop violence against domestic helps

Published : 20 Mar 2024 10:36 PM | Updated : 21 Mar 2024 04:15 PM
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Violence against domestic helps and torture on them are frequent almost everywhere in Bangladesh, but there is no law to protect the highly vulnerable community from their employers.

Lacking legal protection, domestic workers faced different kinds of torture, including physical, mental, and sexual harassment. In many cases, it results in their untimely death.

Many human rights organisations working on the issue claim the rate of torture on domestic help is much higher than what comes to the media. Most of the time, victims do not get legal protection and justice as oppressors are politically and socially strong, they said.

Human rights organisations claimed that the situation would not improve unless the government took an active role in establishing the rights of domestic workers.

Many housemaids in the capital city are undergoing inhuman torture apart from wage discrimination after coming here in their efforts to support their hapless families. 

On February 6, Preeti Urang, 15, from Moulvibazar’s Kamolganj upazila, died after falling from the Mohammadpur flat of The Daily Star Executive Editor, Syed Ashfaqul Haque.

Parents of Preeti Urang and various national and international organisations have demanded exemplary punishment for the accused behind the ‘mysterious death’ of an ethnic minority community child at the house in the capital.

There is a ‘Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy’ made in 2015 to stop abuse of domestic workers. It cannot change the fate of domestic workers. 

Although a policy was made nine years ago to protect the interests of domestic helps, there is no initiative to enact the law. Even the government has done nothing of what is said to be done in the policy.

There is no implementation of anything that is said in the policy — about recruitment, working hours, and holidays. The government’s monitoring cell, helpline, and policy promotion have been mentioned, but nothing has been done.

Those for whom this policy is, do not know what rights they have, those who employ domestic workers, do not know either.

Concerned circles said that the policy is not law, so there is no obligation to obey it. There is no penalty for not following the policy. So they emphasized on making laws immediately.

According to the human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 36 domestic workers have died in their landlords’ residences in the last three years across the country, including Dhaka. Of them, 90 per cent died due to torture—some committed suicide. A total of 103 people were tortured during this time. However, in these incidents, only 69 cases were filed.

According to ASK data, from 2013 to 2023, about 450 domestic workers were tortured across the country. About two hundred cases of torture and wrongful death have been registered in various police stations on these incidents.

Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, Joint Secretary General of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said, “The cases of torture and death of domestic workers are more. The numbers you see are based on the information published in the media. Many cases do not come to the media. And many cases do not get prosecuted.”

According to the latest labour force survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there are now 25 lakh domestic workers nationwide. 

There is only one policy for domestic workers and no wage structure. As a result, they cannot enter the government’s lowest wage rate. They are deprived of various facilities, including house rent, medical allowance, travel allowance, and Eid bonus.

A BILS study released in 2023 says 84 percent of domestic workers live below the poverty line. Their monthly average income is Tk 5,311. Household spending is more than double that.

Those who stay at the landlord’s home have no fixed working hours and work 10 to 14 hours daily. They do not get leave benefits as per policy. 87 percent do not have any weekends. Fewer people get sick leave. Only 7 per cent get paid maternity leave.

Abul Alam Azad, Joint General Secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra, said “The Bangladesh Labour Act 2023 is amended. But domestic workers are not included in the Act. As they do not have the status of workers, they are not getting any such benefits. The policy is not an institutional framework; law is needed.”