UN report spotlights hidden problem of children exploited for domestic labour

11 June 2004

Up to 10 million children – mostly girls – are trapped in low-paid jobs as domestic servants, where they are at risk of sexual abuse, physical exploitation and human trafficking, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says in a new report.

Up to 10 million children – mostly girls – are trapped in low-paid jobs as domestic servants, where they are at risk of sexual abuse, physical exploitation and human trafficking, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says in a new report.

These youngsters are usually “invisible” to their communities, toiling for long hours with little or no pay and regularly deprived of the chance to play or go to school, according to Helping Hands or Shackled Lives? Understanding child domestic labour and responses to it, released on the eve of tomorrow’s World Day Against Child Labour.

Many working children are very young, with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) saying some domestic workers are only five years old.

The scourge appears to be flourishing in the developing world. Country surveys indicate about 700,000 children are domestic workers in Indonesia alone, while there are also large numbers in Brazil (559,000), Pakistan (264,000), Haiti (250,000), Kenya (200,000) and Sri Lanka (100,000).

One reason for the lack of attention to the plight of these children is that they are suffering behind closed doors. “They are in a workplace – even if that workplace is someone else’s home – hidden from public view and labour inspection,” notes June Kane, author of the ILO report.

Echoing the report’s findings, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that to describe many of the cases as “domestic workers” is misleading.

“We’re talking about children who, instead of starting each day in the school yard, are getting up when it is still dark and toiling until night in slave-like conditions,” she said. “This is not legitimate employment.”

Ms. Bellamy said children are deprived of basic health and education needs, and have to depend on the whims of their employers for their well-being. “Not only are these children forced to work long, hard hours but they are at increased risk of sexual abuse and being trafficked within and across borders.”

Calling on governments around the world to enact laws to punish those who exploit children, Ms. Bellamy added that campaigns targeting child labour must give special attention to the problem of domestic exploitation.

 

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