United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
27th Session
Geneva, 27-31 May 2002

The relationship between child domestic servitude
and the sexual exploitation of children

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, 1996.
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