On a typical Monday evening, around 6pm, 26-year-old Mehwish, a banker, comes to pick her three-year-old daughter and a year-old son from a day-care facility located at PECHS, Karachi.
Her husband has a full-time job at an international accountancy firm. As she enters the day-care centre, her daughter comes running towards her. She hugs the little girl tightly; a minute later, she holds her son and gently plants a kiss on his forehead. It’s her daily routine — drop the children at the centre around 9am and pick up them around 6pm.
Mehwish’s family of four depicts the typical, nuclear family of our society, where women have full-time jobs. In their lives, day-cares play an important role.
“People advised me to quit working. Had I done that, my family’s financial situation would have become aggravated,” Mehwish smiles and explains how circumstances led her to opt for a day-care facility.
“Our trivial monthly budget would have been severely disrupted. Hence, we mutually decided to keep my job and look for day-care. People told me day-care abuse stories. Some even argued that a temporary financial crisis is better than spoiling the children’s personalities. I was lucky to find a good day-care centre near my workplace, so I decided to take the plunge,” she continues.
As more families realise the importance of two incomes to run homes, the need for more day-care facilities for children becomes imperative
Day-care centres have been facilitating working parents for a long time. In the West, they are quite popular largely because of the high female employment ratio and nuclear family structures. Until recently, this concept wasn’t very popular in Pakistan, mainly because the percentage of working women was much lower and couples preferred living in joint families where grandparents contributed in childcare.
Besides, there was a widespread belief that it was best for a child to be looked after at home by the mother, until at least the age of five. In recent years as more women have begun seeking employment and want to go back to work after their maternity leave, the need for day-care centres has risen dramatically in Pakistan too.
Although some mothers are fortunate enough to acquire the services of a quality day-care facility and continue working, many are left in the lurch mainly due to three reasons.
Firstly, there are only a few private day-care facilities and fewer government-run day-cares in metropolitan cities. This number gets much lower in semi-urban cities, while there are hardly any in rural areas.
Aliya, a manager at a non-governmental organisation in Karachi says, “There isn’t a single, good day-care in Korangi Industrial area. There are two good ones at Shara-i-Faisal and quite a few in DHA, but these are way far off from where I live. Day-cares should be near one’s home or workplace to avoid unnecessary travel, especially during peak hours. Hence, I’m forced to leave my children at home with a maid.”
Misha, a mother of two young daughters from Lahore, narrates a similar story about why she couldn’t continue working after the birth of her second daughter. “There was nobody to take care of her. My mother-in-law was very ill, I didn’t want to hire a maid and there wasn’t any day-care nearby to facilitate me. Hence, I left my job,” she says.
Witnessing a dearth of good day-care facilities in the country, Rizwan Khan, a PR and marketing teacher urges his ardent, young entrepreneurship students as well as day-care owners to establish more of such facilities in different areas of their respective cities to support working mothers. “In my entrepreneurship class, I often urge students to start day-care ventures,” says Khan.
“I encourage them to study books on childcare and observe the models used by the existing centres and then establish their own businesses with a unique selling proposition. I advise them that they must hire and train their staff and offer value-adding services like free food, summer camps and associations with various primary schools for admission facilities to make their ventures successful.”
Erum Makhdoom, a psychologist from Lahore, endorses Khan’s suggestion. “With more day-care centres in the city, mothers won’t have to rely on maids — what with serious hygiene, literacy, temperament and training issues associated with them,” she says. “There have been cases of child abuse as well. I feel establishing more quality centres is a good idea.”
There’s still also a prevalent belief that day-cares negatively affect a child’s upbringing and growth.
Ambreen, now a stay-at-home mother, says that she left her job because she couldn’t trust a stranger looking after her daughter. “What if she doesn’t recognise me as her mother and begins calling a day-care staff member her mother?” she asks. “What if someone abused her? My daughter could become aggressive and ill-mannered.”
However, numerous studies and historical data collected from around the world (such as ‘The Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development’ conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, USA and Christina Felfe’s paper ‘Does early child care affect children’s development’ from Germany) have shown that day-cares can play an integral role in influencing a child’s personality.
At these centres, children develop basic life skills and learn to establish meaningful relationships with their peers and care-providers hailing from diverse backgrounds. Children raised in day-cares learn to be responsible for their possessions and accountable for their actions.
Dr Sofia Rahman, owner of Dr Sofia’s Day-Care and Learning Centre in Karachi, sees every day how healthy interactions with caregivers and peers shape and refine a child’s personality.
“I see young children absorbing from their surroundings like sponges. Therefore, it’s very important that they are provided a safe and stimulating environment,” she stresses. “Young children need to trust and form a strong and loving relationship with their caregivers. It is the responsibility of those looking after these toddlers to instill in them a love for learning, to stimulate their curious minds and to encourage them to explore and imagine.”
Javeria Abdullah, owner of Childy’s Day-Care and Playgroup realises that these centres carry a huge responsibility as they are directly involved in the upbringing of a child. She spent a year-and-a-half studying a day-care’s modus operandi, early childhood education, and indigenous as well as international best practices in childcare before starting her centre.
“Taking responsibility of a child’s development is quite a serious affair,” says Abdullah. “While hiring my staff, I assess candidates for necessary attributes such as patience, sensitivity, creativity, ability to connect with children and good language skills. Also, I keep guiding and assisting my staff throughout the day.”
Simply stating that children need a healthy environment and meaningful interactions with caregivers and peers is one thing, but enabling and facilitating them in actuality is totally another. Do day-cares in our country address the emotional, social and academic needs of a child?
There are only a few private day-care facilities and fewer government-run day-cares in metropolitan cities. This number gets much lower in semi-urban cities, while there are hardly any in rural areas.
To find answers, Javeria invited me to visit children in the playgroup and pre-school sections of her centre. In playgroup, young children were sitting in a circle, listening to a story told by their teacher. She would hold up pictures occasionally and the children would express their amazement. In another room, children were playing with colourful blocks under a teacher’s supervision.
“When an infant arrives, we work towards building an emotional bond of trust and love between the baby and caregiver,” she explains. “While we are at it, we start working on his or her psychosocial development [social, emotional, mental, cognitive and motor domains].
“As the child grows older, we move him or her to ‘Playgroup’ where he or she is encouraged to interact and play with other children, make friends and share things,” she explains. “Then, we start working on basic subjects [English, mathematics, science, language and literacy] and concepts in progression until he or she is ready to take the admission test in different schools. This is how we provide children a productive environment for their healthy development.”
What happens if there is an emergency — a child may feel unwell or meets an accident while playing? Javeria says there is a hospital in the next lane. “We call the parents and rush the child to the hospital, which is just a minute away,” she informs. “I am a doctor myself so I look after the children. In other campuses, we have employed a part-time doctor.”
Javeria's location makes her lucky but day-cares should seriously consider availability of a doctor.
It is often said that the charges of the day-care centres are very high. Most charge 10,000 to 15,000 rupees per month for children staying a full day and 6,000 to 8,000 rupees per month for those staying half a day (some provide food, some don’t). Day-care owners justify their high charges as necessary for their safe, hygienic, spacious and fully air-conditioned rooms with CCTV cameras and trained staff.
While a few centres are willing to offer a discount package, most are absolutely reluctant. The exorbitant packages make day-cares inaccessible for those belonging to the middle-class and less-privileged socio-economic backgrounds. Consequently, women often employ maids. Working women belonging to the lowest, poverty-stricken echelon have to rely on family members no matter how much they may dislike the idea.
Twenty-five-year-old Saheba, a mother of four, is a cleaning-lady. She earns 25,000 rupees per month, so there’s no way she can afford to pay someone to look after her children. “I leave them with my mother-in-law and husband, though I wish I could afford a less expensive Montessori,” she says despondently.
Realising that day-cares are few and expensive, organisations such as Engro Corporation, The Citizens Foundation (TCF), Unilever as well as some private schools and universities have set up day-care facilities for their staff. “We opened a childcare centre because we wanted women to keep working without staying away from their children,” explains Mrs Roshani, principal of Dawood Public School.
Though women have begun sharing part of household expenditures with their husbands, they are yet to enjoy more supportive environments and helping mechanisms at homes and workplaces. While a few women can afford day-care centres, there are many others who are left without an option. Local and international organisations should think of a model through which they can facilitate their female employees, while the government must think of establishing more such centres accessible to parents from all socio-economic backgrounds.
With more competition in the market, day-care centres will be bound to lower their charges, and many more mothers will be able to enjoy their helping hand.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, October 21st, 2018