Domestic labor affects the lives of millions of people around the world and may account for 10% of the workforce in certain countries. Domestic workers’ working conditions are far removed from international norms: low or inexistent salaries, excessively long hours, and lack of social welfare and rest periods.
These workers are victims of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. At times deprived of food and water or imprisoned, they are victimized by their employers. However, given their often precarious situations (such as debts or isolation), they choose to remain in this condition of semi-slavery.
While adults are affected by this phenomenon, children make up the majority of domestic workers. In fact, their young age only exacerbates the risk factors. Isolation in particular reveals the vulnerability of children, who, without a support system of family or friends, become almost entirely dependent on their employers. In 1989, the International Labour Organization declared that “young people working as domestic servants are probably the most vulnerable and exploited children of all.”
In its 12 June 2013 report (Ending child labour in domestic work), the ILO estimated the total number of child domestic workers (those under 18 years of age) at 15.5 million, more than half of whom were between the ages of 5 and 14. There is often a blurred and fluctuating line between learning life-skills through domestic chores in a family setting and exploitation of child labor, which is why it is so challenging to effectively combat child labor.
The ILO emphasizes that children of migrant origin face the greatest danger. They are at risk of having their identification papers stolen, and they often arrive in their host countries alone. These factors only increase the likelihood that their domestic work will turn into slavery.