| |

Background Note



Read Background Note

Fill the Sharing Form - share your activities/ preparations towards World Day Against Child Labour 2013



Download Resource Pack

Use "Our home is child labour free" stickers to create mass awareness on Child Domestic Labour
Download Stickers (English, French, Spanish)

The ILO estimates (2010)1 that 15.5 million children are engaged in paid or unpaid domestic work in the home of a third party or employer. These children can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Their work is often hidden from the public eye, they may be isolated, and they may be working far away from their family home. Stories of the abuse of children in domestic work are all too common. 

Throughout the world, thousands of children are working as domestic helpers, performing tasks such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, minding children and gardening. In many countries this phenomenon is not only socially and culturally accepted but might be regarded positively as a protected and non-stigmatised type of work, and therefore preferable to other forms of work, especially for the girl-child. The perpetuation of traditional female roles and responsibilities within and outside the household, and the perception of domestic service as part of a woman's apprenticeship for adulthood and marriage, also contribute to the low recognition of domestic work as a form of economic activity, and of child domestic labour as a form of child labour.

Ignorance of, or disregard for the risks children might be exposed to in this kind of work is an alarming reality in many parts of the world. It is also one of the reasons for the widespread institutional reluctance to address the issue with specific policies and laws and why the issue has only recently come to the forefront of the international debate as potentially one of the most widespread “worst forms of child labour”. 

Given its hidden nature, it is impossible to have reliable figures on how many children are globally exploited as domestic workers. According to the ILO, though, more girl-children under 16 are in domestic service than in any other category of child labour. Available statistics mostly based on local research and surveys, and certainly only the tip of the iceberg, provide for an alarming indication of the extent of the phenomenon worldwide. Recent International Programme for Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) rapid assessments conducted in Asia, Africa and Latin America confirm the overwhelming extent and gravity of this problem.

According to recent reports, for example, some 175,000 children under 18 are employed in domestic service in Central America, more than 688,000 in Indonesia alone, 53,942 under-15 in South Africa and 38,000 children between 5 and 7 in Guatemala.

Trafficking for forced labour

Most girls and women who are trafficked end up as domestic workers and are trafficked within and across state borders by organised traffickers. Girls and women from various Asian countries, for example, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are often trafficked into countries in the Middle East and Gulf states, while those from African and East European countries may be trafficked into Western Europe to work as maids, nannies and housekeepers. Girls and boys are trafficked into India from Nepal and Bangladesh to work as domestic workers.

Traffickers usually source the victims in groups, with false or altered documents, and often lie about the destination countries and what they will actually do when they arrive. Poorly educated parents or guardians are often ignorant of the dangers of trafficking and are too trusting of agents who visit their homes to propose a better life for their children elsewhere. Agents take advantage of the ignorance and extreme poverty of parents or guardians and pay an advance sum as a sign of their “good” intentions. Those trafficked are often not in possession of legitimate contracts and identity documents and are therefore completely at the mercy of the traffickers and their eventual employers. 

The nature and scale of child domestic work and the child labour problem

Large numbers of children are already involved as domestic workers before they reach the legal minimum age of employment. While young workers who have reached the required minimum legal age may undertake domestic work, international standards require that special attention is given to ensure that those who have reached the minimum age of employment but are below the age of 18 are not exposed to working conditions that are hazardous.

Research on children in domestic work has illustrated the scale of the child labour problem:

  • Of an estimated 15.5 million children engaged in paid or unpaid domestic work in the home of a third party or employer 10.5 million are estimated to be in child labour either because they are below the minimum age of employment or because their work is regarded as hazardous.
  • The vast majority of all child domestic workers are girls (72%).
  • 52% of all child domestic workers are found in hazardous child domestic work.
  • 47% of all child domestic workers are below the age of 14 years, with 3.5 million aged 5 to 11 years and 3.8 million between 12 and 14 years.
  • Some children are working in domestic work as a result of forced labour and trafficking. Although the specific number of children in forced labour and trafficking situations in domestic work is unknown it is estimated that 5.5 million children are victims of forced labour and human trafficking around the world.
  • Because of the hidden nature of much domestic work and because labour laws are commonly not applied in the sector, there are particular vulnerabilities. Stories of abuse of domestic workers are common and children are particularly vulnerable. The ILO's child labour standards call for special attention to the situation of girls and efforts to reach out to children at special risk.

The Cause 

The root causes of child domestic labour are multiple and multi-faceted. Poverty and its feminisation, social exclusion, lack of education, gender and ethnic discrimination, domestic violence, displacement, rural-urban migration and loss of parents due to conflicts and diseases, are just some of the multiple “push factors” for child domestic workers worldwide. Increasing social and economic disparities, debt bondage, the perception that the employer is simply an extended “family” and protected environment for the child, the increasing need for the women of the household to have a “replacement” at home that will enable more and more of them to enter the labour market, and the illusion that domestic service gives the child worker an opportunity for education, are some of its “pull factors”.

The hazards linked to this practice are a matter of serious concern. The ILO has identified a number of hazards to which domestic workers are particularly vulnerable and the reason it may be considered to be one of the worst forms of child labour. Some of the most common risks children faces in domestic service are:

  • long and tiring working days;
  • use of toxic chemicals;
  • carrying heavy loads;
  • handling dangerous items, such as knives, axes and hot pans;
  • insufficient or inadequate food and accommodation, and
  • Humiliating or degrading treatment, including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse.

These hazards need to be seen in association with the denial of fundamental rights of the children such as, for example, access to education and health care, the right to rest, leisure, play and recreation and the right to be cared for and to have regular contact with their parents and peers (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). These factors can have an irreversible physical, psychological and moral impact on the development, health and well-being of the child.

Given the complexity of its root causes and impact, any effort to adequately and efficiently address child domestic labour must therefore be of a multidisciplinary, multi-faceted and integrated nature, and linked to the broader context of poverty reduction, elimination and prevention of the worst forms of child labour and promotion and enforcement of fundamental labour and human rights.

Steps needed to protect children from domestic work

1. Ratification and implementation of ILO Convention No. 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers

  In 2011 the ILO adopted new international standards promoting decent work for domestic workers. These standards provide a clear message: domestic workers, like other workers, have the right to decent working and living conditions.

With regard to the elimination of child labour, Convention No. 189 asks Member States to set a minimum age for domestic workers which must be consistent with the ILO's child labour Conventions and be not lower than that established for workers generally. Convention No. 189 and Recommendation No. 201 also specify the need to identify hazardous elements of domestic work and to prohibit such work for children under the age of 18. 

Linkages with ILO Convention No. 138 and Convention No. 182 

Articles 3 and 4 of the  Convention  makes constructive reference to the abolition of child labour and the ILO Child Labour Conventions, Nos. 138 on Minimum Age of Employment and 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, with a key reference to non-interference with education and training. Article 4 of the Convention states the following:

1. Each Member shall set a minimum age for domestic workers consistent with the provisions of the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and not lower than that established by national laws and regulations for workers generally.

2. Each Member shall take measures to ensure that work performed by domestic workers who are under the age of 18 and above the minimum age of employment does not deprive them of compulsory education, or interfere with opportunities to participate in further education or vocational training.

In addition, paragraph 5 of the Recommendation No. 201 provides good protection to young workers above the minimum age of employment and below the age of 18. Article 5 of Recommendation states the following:

5. (1)Members should, taking into account the provisions of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and Recommendation (No. 190), identify types of domestic work which, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children, and should also prohibit and eliminate such child labour.(2)When regulating the working and living conditions of domestic workers, Members should give special attention to the needs of domestic workers who are under the age of 18 and above the minimum age of employment as defined by national laws and regulations, and take measures to protect them, including by:

(a) strictly limiting their hours of work to ensure adequate time for rest, education and training, leisure activities and family contacts;

(b) prohibiting night work;

(c) placing restrictions on tasks that are excessively demanding, whether physically or psychologically; and

(d) establishing or strengthening mechanisms to monitor their working and living conditions.


2.  Protecting children from child labour

Various measures can be and need to be taken to protect children from child labour. Some of these measures include:

a. Amend national laws, if necessary, to comply with the content of the Conventions above, and ensure that the national laws on the age of completing compulsory education and the minimum age of employment correspond with each other;

b. Regularly revise and update the national hazardous work lists, to protect children from the new and emerging forms of exploitation and slavery;

c. Provide universal free quality basic public education, especially in rural communities, with a priority focus on girls. Make education free for all, including uniforms, syllabus books, school meals, transportation, and any other hidden cost of education;

d. Give a second chance to child labourers and other out-of-school children who have missed out on their opportunities to begin compulsory education at appropriate age;

e. Form a National Committee on Child Labour and Education in order to coordinate efforts to ensure basic education for all and to end child labour, including Ministries of Labour, Education, Finance, Social Welfare and other relevant ministries, law enforcement agencies, civil society and children; and invest, at least 6% of GNP for ensuring basic education for all children.


3.  Commitment of Donor Countries and the International Community

Commitments from donor countries and international community at large are needed. These include: 

a. Commit their programs and policies to ending child labour;

b. Meet the financial commitment made in the Dakar Framework of Action to ensure all children are in primary school;

c. Provide debt relief and do away with conditionality on overseas aid, allowing the developing countries with a time-bound and effective national plans to invest more efficiently in their children;

d. Invest more than 0.1% of their GNP for the overseas aid aimed directly at benefiting children, especially in ending child labour and ensuring education for all. 

Source: ILO-IPEC: http://www.ilo.org/ipec/Campaignandadvocacy/wdacl/2013/lang--en/index.htm