- Approximately 1 million children under 18 are hired as domestic workers.
- Over 60% of these children are denied the opportunity to attend school.
- Poverty is the main reason why they resort to domestic work.
- Many face physical and sexual abuse from their employers.
Africa’s history with child labour is long and sordid, continuously entrapping millions of young children in a cycle of abuse, violence, and terror. Child soldiers have gripped the continent for years, with statistics reporting that 40 percent of child soldiers globally reside in Africa. Countries like the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan recruit children under 18 to serve as militants or cooks and messengers as they’re regarded as cheap labour that is easy to maintain and exploit. In Tanzania, children as young as eight are often taken in as domestic workers, kept away from their families, and face harsh living conditions.
An estimated 1 million children are forced into domestic servitude under false pretences. They’re promised new homes and money, but this is, more often than not, never their actual reality. Poverty is a driving force behind so many children resorting to domestic work. It is not only a common practice, but a way many believe is the only option out of the hardship of living below the breadline. About 3% of the population in urban areas are children working as live-in domestic workers, with 80% being girls. According to Anti Slavery International, many girls accept jobs to escape domestic abuse or forced marriage.
A 2012 survey reported that this form of human trafficking ensured that over 60% of these children were denied an education as they worked long and gruelling hours (up to 60+ hours weekly). The numbers further demonstrated that under 0.5% of the children in domestic work had formal contracts; over 40% suffered various forms of physical abuse and; 17% suffered sexual abuse.
CNN recently chronicled the story of a young girl who escaped her life as a domestic worker in Kenya. Eight-year-old Mercy Esther was offered a job and promised enough money to care for her grandmother and siblings. As is the case with many, the opportunity was a front. Mercy received no cash and faced abuse. She only ran away after six years. Fortunately, she received assistance from the Nairobi police force and the Tanzanian government and safely returned to her village and reunited with her family.
“I faced abuse and exploitation, but I was able to speak out,” she candidly shared. “Many domestic workers, they can’t speak out. Who is going to speak (for) them?”
Organisations such as Anti Slavery International work tirelessly to bring change and support the victims. “We do not settle for easy solutions but instead aim to tackle the problem from all angles and address the root causes, as well as long-term consequences,” the organisation said.
“We work with our partners from the Tanzania Domestic Worker Coalition, formed as a result of our past work, to protect children in domestic work and secure their long term future.”
The organisation provides shelter and support for individual victims and aims to reunite younger children with their families and provide them with education and opportunities to seek employment.
In addition, Anti Slavery International targets employers and works on transforming their attitudes towards workers.”We invite them to meet us and attend special training, showing them not only their responsibilities as ethical employers, but also the advantages of treating their workers fairly and with respect.”
WoteSawa Domestic Workers Organization, which assisted Mercy with reuniting with her family upon returning to Tanzania, operates a shelter in Mwanza. Founded in 2014, the organisation takes in around 75 children annually and provides them with counselling, legal help, education, and vocational training.
Mercy Esther has reintegrated into society and still lives in the shelter with her family as she prefers not to return to her village. Through her time at the shelter, she has become skilled as a seamstress and wants to work toward building her own business and making enough money to provide for her family.
“Tanzania is a beautiful and a peaceful country, but there is a dark side,” said Angela Benedicto, WoteSawa founder and executive director”—a sad yet inescapable truth. More children still live under the violent nature of domestic servitude, and much more still needs to be done to help them, but with such organisations in existence, there is hope.