Anti-Slavery would like to highlight the relationship between the
priority issues chosen for this year's session, namely child domestic
servitude and the sexual exploitation of children.
Child domestic servitude: a cause for concern
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that domestic
work in the households of families other than the child's own is
the largest single employment category of under 16-year-old girls
in the world. Although the numbers that this represents are not
known, it is likely to run into the millions worldwide.
About 90 per cent of child domestic workers are girls, although
in some countries (such as Nepal and Haiti) significant numbers
of boys are also employed as domestics. The majority of children
in domestic labour are between 12 and 17, but in many countries
children routinely begin working as domestics well before 12 years.
Child domestic workers routinely suffer discrimination, a loss
of freedom, identity and self-esteem and denial of schooling. They
are also vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse and suffer from
the effects of the work that they do and the conditions under which
they do it.
Links between child domestic work and sexual exploitation
Sexual exploitation of child domestic workers due to the child's
vulnerability and isolation in the homes of their employers is common.
For example, several studies show that, in Latin America, many men
who grow up in homes with domestic workers have their first sexual
encounter with a domestic worker. In Lima, Peru, one study estimated
the proportion at 60 per cent.1 In Fiji,
eight out of 10 domestic workers reported that their employers sexually
abuse them.2 In Haiti, restavèk
girls are sometimes called "la pou sa", a Creole
term meaning "there for that". They are accepted sexual
outlets for the men or boys of the household.
In cases where the girls become pregnant they are often thrown out
of the house and are forced to fend for themselves on the streets,
since the shame of their situation makes it difficult for them to
return home. Many families reject these 'spoiled girls' because
'their behaviour' has brought dishonour to the family. In these
instances, domestic work typically becomes a precursor for prostitution,
as the young girls have few other options available.3
In Bangladesh, for example, a local NGO interviewing children working
in commercial sexual exploitation in the capital Dhaka found that
all of them had previously worked as child domestic workers and
had been sexually abused by the employing family. Sexual abuse combined
with working in conditions of servitude and the shame of their situation
eventually forced them into a life of commercial sex work.
Traffickers of children into the sex trade routinely deceive children
and their families about what will happen to them by promising them
attractive jobs as domestic workers. In the Philippines, for example,
the local NGO Visayan Forum Foundation has established that most
of the children and young women trafficked to Manila from rural
areas in search of work are assured jobs as domestic workers, but
in a significant number of cases end up in the sex trade.4
In other cases evidence suggests that the exploitation of trafficked
children can be progressive, meaning that children who have been
trafficked to work as domestics may later be forced into prostitution.5
In West Africa, where children are trafficked across borders to
work as domestics, girls discarded or abused by employing families
often have little choice but to turn to prostitution as a means
of survival in a foreign country with no means of returning home.
1. Governments should ratify and implement ILO Convention No.182
as a matter of urgency and develop plans of action which include
policies designed to offer better protection to child domestic workers,
including raising public awareness about the issue.
2. Governments should sign and ratify the United Nations Protocol
on Trafficking in Persons (2000) and the UN Convention on the Rights
of Migrant Workers (1990) without delay.
3. Anti-Slavery calls on the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale
of children, child prostitution and child pornography to consider
the links between sexual exploitation and child domestic work, and
to report on measures which have been effective in reducing the
vulnerability of child domestic workers to sexual abuse.
4. Inter-governmental agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF should
address the gap between organisations working on child labour and
those working specifically on the sexual exploitation of children
and facilitating information sharing at the local level.
5. Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue, there is a need for
researchers to tackle the difficulty in ascertaining the true extent
of sexual exploitation amongst child domestic workers and other
working children by addressing how best to collect information from
the children concerned.
1 S.A. Friedman, Because They're Girls: Targeting
the Most Intolerable Forms of Child Labour and Addressing the Invisible
Labour of Girls, paper prepared for the ILO, Geneva, 1997.
2 Save the Children, Kids for Hire: A child's right to protection
from commercial sexual exploitation, Save the Children, London,
3 UNICEF, Child Domestic Work, Innocenti Digest No5, UNICEF
International Child Development Centre, May 1999.
4 M.C. Flores-Oebanda et al, The Kasambahay - child domestic work
in the Philippines: a living experience, Visayan Forum Foundation
& ILO, 2001.
5 P. Boonpala & J. Kane, Trafficking of Children: The problem
and responses worldwide, ILO/IPEC, 2001.