In Geneva on Wednesday, the International Labor Organization (ILO) called for the elimination of the world’s child domestic labor force, which numbers in the millions. The ILO estimates that as many as 10.5 million children around the world are working as domestic workers in hazardous, sometimes slave-like conditions.
They have announced that Wednesday, June 12, is World Day Against Child Labor and they’re calling for action to be taken to eliminate child labor in domestic work.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization, all regions of the world employ children as domestic laborers, often in brutal conditions. Of the 10.5 million child domestic laborers mentioned in the report, 6.5 million are aged between five and 14 years and more than 70 percent are girls.
Constance Thomas, Director of the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, says children carry out a variety of domestic tasks such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, gardening, looking after other children, and caring for the elderly.
“We know that they are vulnerable to physical, psychological and sexual violence and abuse. They are isolated from their own families. They are hidden from the public eye by the nature of where they are working. And, they can become in a state of high dependence on the family or the people in whose household they are working. We have evidence that some do end up becoming commercially sexually exploited,” Thomas states.
She added that the situation of many domestic workers is a serious violation of child rights. The conditions under which they work are appalling, according to Thomas, with long hours of work each day and no time for rest or leisure.
Thomas also said that many children are exposed to toxic chemicals, carry heavy loads, and use dangerous tools like axes and knives. Furthermore, the children are often underfed, receive humiliating and degrading treatment, and suffer verbal and sexual abuse.
Overall, 215 million children under age 18 work, many full-time, reports the International Labor Organization.
One in eight children aged five to 17 in the Asia Pacific region work and one in 10 in Latin America, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, one in four work.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimate is somewhat lower, but the numbers of children working in the domestic labor force are still extremely high, and the age range both organizations use is different.
According to them, all over the world around 150 million children aged from 5 to 14, or nearly one in six children in this age group, are involved in child labor.
Thomas says some countries, such as Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania are making very good progress in ending some of the most hazardous types of child labor, but many children in Africa are still working in domestic jobs that are some of the worst forms of child labor.
“We have some good examples of some great, great progress. Ghana right now has a huge program addressing child labor in agriculture, in fishing and in domestic work. But they are calling on more action because domestic work is one of those that is going to be the hardest to root out because it is hidden-very much because it is hidden,” Thomas stated.
The ILO said that child domestic work is often not recognized as a form of child labor in many countries. That’s because their is a blurred relationship where the employing family claims that they are treating the children as a part of its family though the child is not treated like a family member.
Also, according to the ILO, the hidden nature of domestic work makes it difficult to protect the child.
The report stressed the need for better data collection. Its purpose is also to press governments to ratify and implement two ILO Conventions that deal with the minimum age for employment and the worst forms of child labor.
“We can understand that many children work to support their families.” UNICEF’s global head of child protection Susan Bissell said in a message on the World Day Against Child Labor.
“However, when children are forced into the most dangerous forms of labor and they then miss school in this context and their health and well-being are impaired than this is unacceptable,” she stated.
Written by: Douglas Cobb