Discriminatory ad targeting Christians in Pakistan criticized

Discriminatory ad for sanitation workers in Pakistan.
Discriminatory ad for sanitation workers in Pakistan. | (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

An ad for sanitation workers targeting Christians in Pakistan has prompted objections that it signals only Christians should work such low-paying jobs.

The ad soliciting candidates for sweepers at health facilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province states, “Christian community will be preferred.” It was posted by Trans-Continental Pharma, a hospital management service contractor with the provincial government, on May 18.

A former member of the National Commission for Minorities, Albert David, said the ad gave the impression that sanitation work was beneath the Muslim-majority population.

“I contacted the chief executive officer of the company and registered a strong protest against the discriminatory ad on behalf of my community. The official has promised to amend the ad,” David said, although there was no change in the ad at this writing.

Such a discriminatory ad was a clear violation of Article 27 of Pakistan’s constitution and international conventions to which the country was a signatory, he said.

“Article 27 provides safeguards against discrimination in services or employment, but this has been so blatantly trampled upon over the decades,” said David, adding that the U.N. and International Labor Organization’s Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) describes discrimination as, “Any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.”

“This systemic policy of reserving sanitation posts for non-Muslims must end now, as it has a direct bearing on the image of the community,” he said.

An estimated 80 percent of sanitation workers in Pakistan are Christians, though Christians make up just 2 percent of the population, according to a study by WaterAid.

Christians are often referred to as Chuhra (low caste), a pejorative term reserved for sanitation workers referring to their past as members of the subcontinent’s Hindu Chuhra caste that was historically associated with sweepers. Though many of them converted to Islam and Christianity, they continue to suffer the same disparagement and are relegated to jobs seen as degrading and defiling.

Road sweepers in Pakistan are mostly Christians and are also referred to by other abusive slurs in local languages.

The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in 2022 launched a campaign to protest discriminatory advertisements for the recruitment of sanitary workers.

The campaign featured sharing awareness messages through print, electronic and digital media, a series of online posts on discriminatory advertisements for sanitation workers, information on the government’s quota system and highlighting the deaths of sanitary workers.

The NCHR also announced a plan to file a suit against the government to remove discriminatory language from advertisements for sanitary workers.

On Jan. 12, 2022 the Islamabad High Court issued notices to various ministries banning job advertisements that reserve the job of “sweepers” for minority communities, particularly Christians, but the practice has continued.

Ejaz Augustine, a Christian lawmaker in the Punjab Assembly, said that non-Muslim sweepers are preferred because they are easily exploited.

“Though many Pakistanis can be found doing menial jobs abroad, it is rare to find any Muslim doing the same job in their own homeland,” Augustine told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “The attitude within Pakistan is as though the Christians were in the country to clean up after Muslims. How can one expect greatness from a nation that does not even know how to clean its streets and treats its sanitary workers as sub-humans?”

A former provincial minister for human rights and minorities, Augustine said the government must ensure that religious minorities are not limited to low-paying jobs.

“The government should work on sensitizing the society and encourage a pluralistic and egalitarian atmosphere where the rights of minorities are equally protected,” he said.

Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall condemned the continued publication of discriminatory job ads.

“This is systemic discrimination against our people and is also a violation of Pakistan’s constitution that guarantees equal opportunities of growth to all citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs,” Bishop Marshall told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

The senior church leader pointed out that despite the reservation of a 5 percent job quota in all federal and provincial governments since 2009, a large number of people from religious minorities were continuing to do low-paid jobs.

“According to reports, thousands of posts of different grades reserved for religious minorities have not been filled by the government,” he said. “Due to this, a large number of our people are pushed into accepting low-paid jobs.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.