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Child Domestic Labour- A Modern Form of Feudalism

11 June 2013, Global – The world is on track towards missing most of the deadlines for international commitment of Millennium Development Goals and national commitments for a better future for children. The adults, the world leaders, the governments and the larger society is failing in it commitments made to 215 million children engaged as child labourers. Millions of them are victims of child slavery including trafficking, forced labour, domestic labour, prostitution, child soldiering, etc.

World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June 2013 is yet another reminder of the missed commitments to 15.5 million child domestic workers. This accounts for over 4 per cent of all children in employment in this age group. Not surprisingly, girls by far outnumber boys in domestic work.

Child domestic labour has been invisible exploitation of children from a decade. It is almost exclusively carried out in private homes, and thus it is hidden from public view and eludes inspection. Almost without exception, children who are in domestic labour are victims of exploitation, often of several different kinds. They are exploited economically when they have to work long hours with no time off, low wages or no remuneration at all. They are exploited because they generally have no social or legal protection, and suffer harsh working conditions including, for example, having to handle toxic substances. Children who enter domestic labour often leave their own family at a very early age to work (literally trafficked!) in the houses of others and are considered almost as ‘possessions’ of the household. They may even be deprived of a name, known only by the local word for ‘servant’.

“My three elder sisters were denied the opportunity to go to primary school by my father, and I was discouraged so I decided to look for a housekeeping job, which I started when I was nine,” reported a domestic worker in Tanzania.

Child domestic workers are less likely than other working children to attend and complete schools evidence shows. The same studies have also shown that these children have a high regard for education and wish very much to be able to go to school in order to learn and make friends.

Ratni (name changed), 14 years old was sold into slavery. She was trafficked from a village in Jharkhand in India to work in the capital, New Delhi. She was rescued when she was being transported from domestic work into prostitution. Her slave master, who had repeatedly forced himself on her, confessed in Ratni’s own words, that “he had planned to sell me off to a mas for Rs 3,50,000 but the buyer did not have sufficient cash” following her rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, has urged countries around the world to back World Day Against Child Labour on June 12th. Mr Brown is working with Global March, the international grouping of charities, campaigners and NGOs, which organised the action day, aimed at reminding the world of the on-going battle against child labour. Mr Brown said: “57 million boys and girls around the world are denied daily their chance to be at school, 15.5 million of whom are domestic workers. June 12th will be an important day in the fight against child labour. We need more countries to ratify ILO Convention 189, the treaty adopted by the 183 member states of the International Labour Organisation and bring forward programmes that give their children the opportunity to receive an education.”

Mr Brown added: “As UN Special Envoy for Global Education I have seen the strength of the growing grassroots movement fighting for the rights of children to be educated. Young people are no longer prepared to accept a world where the most marginalised always miss out. June the 12th will remind everyone of the responsibility we all have to ensure that children are saved from child labour, trafficking and child marriages, and instead granted their right to go to school in order to enrich their lives and realise their potential.”

Speaking on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour, Global March Chairperson, Kailash Satyarthi stated, “Once a door opens for a child domestic servant, all the doors of her life close at once. Each time, a child enters in domestic labour, another blot on the face of human kind is made. There is another denial of human rights, dignity and freedom. This modern form of feudalism has to be condemned, opposed and abolished.” He further added, “Individuals must boycott any service or hospitality provided by such children and the governments must make urgent efforts to ensure quality education for all children and decent work for their parents.”

While Ratni has been reunited with her family, and the traffickers and employer forced to pay compensation, there are millions of Ratni’s across the world, hidden behind closed doors, away from ‘their’ homes, slaving over stoves, laundry, brooms, child care, even supporting farm work, abused, exploited and denied an education. 

The ILO’s Convention 189 on decent work for domestic worker aims to end the exclusion of domestic workers, like Ratni, mostly female and often migrant workforce from labour and social protection. It brings measures to protect children and adults both by providing domestic workers with the basic labour rights. It requires specific steps to eliminate child labour in domestic work and to protect those children who can work legally, by setting a minimum age for domestic work in line with existing ILO conventions, and ensuring that work by children above that age does not deprive them of compulsory schooling or opportunities to participate in further education or vocational training, by the governments. The recommendation accompanying the Convention gives important additional guidance in protecting the rights of child domestic workers.

“Cooperation is fundamental for effective action to eliminate child labour in domestic work, to protect young domestic workers from abusive working and employment conditions and to promote decent work for all domestic workers. We call upon civil society organizations to play an important role in the worldwide movement against child labour towards ending child labour in domestic work and protecting young domestic workers of legal working age at global, national and local level as a priority”, said Constance Thomas, Director, ILO-IPEC

“Ratifying ILO Convention 189 and putting into place laws to enforce it should be at the top of national agendas. Child domestic workers don't have just their childhood robbed from them, but their futures as well”, stated Tim Ryan, Asia Regional Program Director, Solidarity Center and Global March Board Member.

Andrews Addoquaye Tagoe, Head of Program (Training and Education), General Agricultural Workers Union and Anglophone African Coordinator for Global March stated, “We are working very hard with all our partners using integrated area based approaches to ensure that our homes are child labour free, our workplaces are child labour free, our communities are child labour free, our countries are child labour free and Africa will be a child labour free continent....yes!! a child labour free home , country and Africa is possible!”

Global March's present Global Campaign on Child Domestic Labour – FREE: Free From Exploitation For Education: The global campaign is pushing for an increased ratification of ILO Convention 189 (Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers) by countries to end exploitation, restore freedom and the opportunity to receive education and training for the 15.5 million child domestic workers worldwide. ILO Convention 189 is an important international instrument in the fight to eliminate child domestic labour and to protect young domestic workers.

During the campaign the Global March aims to dramatically increase awareness about the extent and seriousness of the problem. Active in over a hundred countries, the movement will be pushing for legal measures, capacity building and coordinated action, rehabilitation programmes, and direct interventions to protect child domestic workers.