Child domestic workers are persons under 18 years of age who work in other people’s households (and sometimes their own families’) doing domestic chores, caring for children, running errands and helping their employers run small businesses. Child domestic workers include those who ‘live in’ and those who live separately from their employers. A child domestic worker may be paid, unpaid, or receive ‘in-kind’ remuneration such as food and shelter.
Children enter domestic work for a variety of reasons. Poverty and promise of a better future sometimes lead parents to send their children into domestic work or children to decide to enter it of their own accord. Despite widespread abuse and exploitation enduring myths prevail. Employers often take girls in their house as a ‘favour’, thinking that they are protecting them and providing opportunities but fail to recognise the level of exploitation and abuse they submit them to. Parents send their children to work with a rich family thinking that it will bring them new opportunities. Domestic work is also widely perceived as a less dangerous type of employment than others, hence making it more suitable for girls. It is also sometimes the only way girls can continue their schooling.
HOW BIG AND WHERE IS THE PROBLEM?
While it is impossible to give precise and reliable figures about the number of children working as domestic workers it is estimated that millions of children are engaged in this type of employment globally.
- Most child domestic workers are between 12 and 17 but some are as young as five or six. The ILO estimates that domestic service is the single largest source of employment for girls under 16 around the world
- It is estimated that around 90% of child domestic workers are girls
- Child domestic work is performed throughout the world but it is estimated that Asia is home to about 60% of child domestic workers with 1.5 millions in Indonesia, 1 million in the Philippines and 100,000 in Sri Lanka
WHY IS THERE A PROBLEM?
The main problems with child domestic workers are linked to their specific vulnerability as children, their invisibility as workers in the home and the low status that surrounds them.
Child domestic workers most at risk of abuse and exploitation are the ‘live-in’ child domestic workers, who are those who work and live in the home of their employers. They are often separated from their families, work far from home and benefit from no support networks.
The working conditions of child domestic workers are of particular concern. They often are paid very little money, sometimes none at all. They work very long hours, with ‘live-in’ child domestic workers often being on call 24 hours a day. They are made responsible for accomplishing a variety of tasks from cleaning, cooking, minding the children and livestock to collecting wood and more; some of these tasks can turn out to be very hazardous for very young children or children who are tired and overworked.
The working conditions child domestic workers are submitted to often go hand in hand with their exclusion from education, worsening their sense of isolation and diminishing their opportunities to get out of domestic work.
The issue of highest concern is the children’s vulnerability to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Studies have shown that child domestic workers are commonly called names, humiliated, shouted at and insulted; they are often slapped, beaten, pushed and whipped; it is also not uncommon for girls to suffer sexual abuse in the home of their employer.
Our research has shown that a lot of child domestic workers have been trafficked, adding a layer of complexity to their situation. There is also growing evidence of the linkages between child domestic work and sexual exploitation.