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Gordon Brown- Learning, not working: why the ILO report shows we need to do more to tackle domestic labour

By Gordon Brown, June 14, 2013

Ratni is a teenager from the Jharkhand province in the north-east of India. Her family are poor, her chances in life few. When her parents were approached by a friend, offering a better life for their daughter in Delhi – education, paid work – they saw a chance for her to escape poverty.

When she reached Delhi, however, Ratni’s chance evaporated. She was forced into bonded domestic labour, spending two years working in service to wealthy households in Delhi and the Punjab. Her masters abused her, forced themselves on her and had her toil day and night.

Ratni is 14 years old – and should be at school. Her story has a happy conclusion: she was bravely rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (India’s Save the Child movement) and is now reunited with her family. But her plight is one that is repeated, millions of times over, and often without the same ending.

Shocking figures from the International Labour Organisation revealed this week that as many as 10.5 million children around the globe work as domestic servants, all too frequently in hazardous conditions and without any pay.

Around 6.5 million are aged between five and 14 years old, meaning that, for millions of young girls and boys, reading, writing or learning sums has been replaced entirely by cooking, cleaning, and collecting water. Three-quarters of child domestic servants are girls.

The practice is a particular scourge in sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, this represents an all too familiar pattern, as recent estimates suggest that out-of-school numbers in Africa are at risk of increasing in coming years. But elsewhere too, this type of exploitation is rife. In India alone, for example, an estimated 500 girls fall into the hands of slave traders each day.

What’s particularly problematic about domestic service is that, in many countries, this type of work is not recognised as child labour, meaning it can slip through legal frameworks designed to protect children from harmful employment.

While we can all accept that helping around the house is something many children do across the world, we should be equally clear that this should never be at the expense of a child’s education, of their future.

The ILO report showed that most often, child domestic servants work in the homes of a third party employer – neither as a respected employee nor as an accepted member of the family. Such a status leaves them vulnerable to abuse – not just in working or pay conditions, but physically, psychologically and sexually. It is a status which many laws fail to protect against.

These children have been promised – by us, the global community – the opportunity to go to school, to learn and to prosper. If we are to deliver on that promise, things must change. What is at once heartening and shameful is that now, it is young people themselves that are attempting to bring about that change. No longer confident in the adults charged with the protection of them and their rights, children, emboldened by stories they read of youth uprisings or campaigners like Malala Yousafzai, are taking things into their own hands.

It is this resilience shown by young people that convinces me more than anything else that we can end this practice. In India last year, I met a number of inspiring, courageous former child labourers who have moved on from their experiences and now work to help others. Take Rakesh, from the Bihar province of India. Sold off at six, he lived for years in a locked animal yard, drugged with opium and forced to work. Now 19, he campaigns against child labour – and even sat for some years on the panel of the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. Or Ashraf, whose story shook India in 1996. Imprisoned as a young child by a senior civil servant, branded and burnt, he was rescued at six and is now a successful high-school graduate working in IT.

We must take strength and inspiration from Rakesh, Ashraf and Ratni as we strive to deliver children from exploitation into education. In the second Millennium Development Goal, we guaranteed enrolment in primary schooling for every child by the end of 2015. New UNESCO figures show that for 57 million girls and boys, this remains an undelivered promise. With less than 1,000 days until the deadline, tackling child labour with robust and properly enforced legal frameworks is central to changing this.

Ratni, Rakesh and Ashraf escaped, but in total, some 15 million children are kept from primary school because of work – be that domestic service, or work on farms, down mines or in sweatshops. Children should be learning, not working, and the ILO’s report reminds us that we’re still falling short. As young people increasingly lead the way, let’s help them ensure that like Ratni, who has now returned to school, it is the classroom where children spend most of their days.

Find out the original article here

To read the review on child labour by Gordon Brown entitled Child Labour and Educational Disadvantage – Breaking the Link, Building Opportunity, click here