Although child domestic workers generally place a lot of importance on their schooling, their work presents a serious obstacle to studying. Commonly, this is simply because employers do not allow them to go to school – or break initial promises to do so.
Even when child domestic workers are given the opportunity to go to school, the long working hours and requirements of their job often make it impossible to take up a school place or they end up dropping out as they have little time for homework and are too tired to study properly. Because of these problems they are discouraged from returning to formal education because of the need to earn money for their families.
Child domestic workers are exposed to a variety of household dangers. Hazardous household chemicals (such as cleaning fluids), kitchen knives, irons, boiling water and the use of unfamiliar household appliances have caused many child domestic workers serious injuries and even death – especially amongst younger children and those already exhausted from a full day’s work. There are also likely to be long term health impacts of chronic sleep deprivation, and being ‘on-call’ 24 hours a day, as well as effects resulting from heavy tasks such as water collecting.
The fact that many children live in their workplace makes them highly dependent on their employers for their basic needs. This seclusion and dependency makes child domestic workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and routinely results in physical, emotional and sexual violence. If violence does occur, her dependency on her employer for basic needs and her acceptance of violence as an occupational hazard makes her far less likely to report it.
Physical abuse: child domestic workers are commonly beaten as punishment for mistakes they make in their tasks.
Emotional abuse: children report that they find the emotional abuse they suffer the hardest to bear. They are treated as second-class citizens, are called names and are not allowed to live as the rest of the family does, for example, being forced to eat left-over or spoiled food.
Sexual abuse: due to children’s vulnerability and isolation sexual abuse and violence is relatively common. The risk of abuse and harassment is greatest among children who live-in with their employers, and who are therefore present in the household all the time.
In cases where girls become pregnant, they can be thrown out of the house and forced to fend for themselves on the streets, as the shame of their situation can make it difficult for them to return home. Some have been found to have ended up in sexual exploitation to survive.
Psychological damage: many child domestic workers have been found to suffer from anxiety, depression and low self esteem due to abuse by employers, together with their isolation, excessive work demands and financial pressures.
Child domestic labour is one of the most widespread, exploitative forms of child work in the world today, and one of the most difficult to tackle. Child domestic workers are hard to reach not only because they work behind the closed doors of their employers’ homes, but also because society sees the practice as normal and – in relation to girls – important training for later life as a wife and mother.
Children report that the most difficult aspect of their lives is their isolation and discrimination. Typically, this means that the employer’s children go to school, while the child domestic worker cannot. Child domestic workers often have to eat separately from the employing family, and may have to eat food of inferior quality. Although some children may sleep in the same room as the employer’s children, many report that they end up in the kitchen or on the veranda. This often results in child domestic workers feeling they are inferior.
Child domestic workers have limited freedom of movement, living in their employers’ houses and subject to their rules. Commonly, children are told not to leave the house by employers, who frighten them with stories of what they will face on the outside.
" We don’t get treated properly. We are discriminated against because of our race or our culture. That’s how my employer’s eldest daughter treats me, as inferior." Flor, Peru.
“While ironing unfortunately the child’s cloth got burnt and then
my employer slapped me.”
“Once I used their toilet, I was scolded. I was asked to use only
the outside toilet which was
on the terrace.”
“When you are a domestic worker your employer (the husband) tries to fondle your breasts and have sex with you. I don’t like that because if you aren’t ready for that, it will harm you.” Akove, Togo
“I did not like my employer because she would shout at me, call me a ‘Tai’ [shit] and ‘Anjing’ [dog]. Why am I being treated this way? I could not stand my employer’s treatment of me.” Evi, Indonesia
“Even if my employer encouraged me to go to school, I decided not to enroll because I wanted to save money that I can send back to my family.”
Grace, the Philippines
“The basement was full of water, where we had to sleep, so we slept on the same wet floor. We had heard there will be a leakage of electricity on the wet floor so we were frightened to sleep. We kept on mopping the floor in order to be able to sleep. The owner came
at 4am when we were mopping the
floor and said ‘make tea for me.”
Priya and Shruti, India