Are Child House-Helps Modern-Day Slaves?

Earlier this year, 8-year-old Sophia Shaidu was admitted to a hospital in Lagos after the flesh on her buttocks started rotting and producing puss. Sophia was beaten with a wire and a spatula by her guardian — a man she was sent to live with three years ago as a maid, (house-help) at the tender age of five.

Mr. Bashir Shuaibu reportedly inflicted the injuries on Sophia because she was a bed-wetter. The Chairman of the Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offenses said Sophia’s guardian was only trying to correct the child. Well, this correction has left Sophia in intensive care needing skin grafting for her injuries to heal.
MDG : Child's handprint on a windowThere are many child house-helps like Sophia in Nigeria and the rest of the world that are in desperate need of help themselves. More than two centuries after slavery was outlawed, 29.8 million people globally continue to be subjected to new and diverse forms of servitude, according to the Global Slavery Index.

Haiti, India, Nepal, Mauritania and Pakistan have the highest prevalence of modern-day slavery, while in absolute numbers, China, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Nigeria have the most people enslaved. In India, almost 14 million people are believed to be victims of modern slavery.

Are house-helps modern slaves? My gut, heart and brain tell me they are but lots of people I’ve spoken to about this don’t agree with me. I read a statement by Gulnara Shahinian, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences. Here’s an extract from the statement.

“We know that comprehensive figures on the number of individuals subjected to contemporary forms of slavery are difficult to obtain. This is because contemporary slavery takes many complex forms, and often occurs in hard to reach areas of the country or what is perceived as the ‘private realm’, such as in the case of domestic servitude. Slavery-like practices also disproportionally impact on groups of persons already suffering from marginalization, discrimination (including caste-based discrimination) or who are otherwise vulnerable, difficult to identify and reach, such as children, migrant or domestic workers, and other groups…”

The practice of employing domestic servants otherwise called a house boy or house girl dates back to the days of old and these days busy parents find domestic help more necessary than ever. According to the Child Welfare League of Nigeria, Nigeria may have the largest number of child domestic workers in the world. Many of these children end up being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused.

I’ve listened to the stories of child house-helps that have been able to become educated and even well-to-do because of their poor parents making a hard decision to send their children to another home for a better life. I get it but I don’t like it. For every good family looking after and paying for child house-helps, there’s a bad family treating children in the same way Sophia Shaidu was treated.

The fact is, without a legal framework to protect these children forced into child labour, cases like Sophia Shaidu’s will keep making headlines. Many cases won’t even make it to press. But guess what, there is a legal framework here in Nigeria. The problem (like so many other laws here) is enforcing these laws.

In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although this law was passed at the Federal level, it is only effective if State Assemblies also enact it. To date, only 16 of the country’s 36 States have passed the Act. Sophia was maltreated in Lagos, a state that has passed the act. I’m disgusted by the remaining 20 States that haven’t passed it. Can you think of a good reason to be against legislation that protects children? Well, when you have government officials that marry kids, you don’t have to be a genius to know why they wouldn’t want to pass the Act — it defines a child as anyone under 18. Some states see making marriage between an adult and a child illegal as out of tune with their culture.

Here is an excerpt from the Act:

Causing tattoos or marks, and female genital mutilation are made punishable offences under the Act; and so also is the exposure to pornographic materials, trafficking of children, their use of narcotic drugs, or the use of children in any criminal activities, abduction and unlawful removal or transfer from lawful custody, and employment of children as domestic helps outside their own home or family environment.

So the sorry excuse for a man who beat the poor defenseless girl should be imprisoned right? I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that if I was you. I feel so sad saying that but unfortunately the truth is there are too many criminals like this animal that aren’t behind bars.

I’m not even keen on maids either but slavery is something I can never tolerate — irrespective of the name we disguise it with here in Nigeria. The promise I’ve made to myself is that I will never have a child house-help. I hope you all make that promise as well.

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2 responses to “Are Child House-Helps Modern-Day Slaves?

  1. Another interesting article Eno!

    This was a really sad read. I think it is a form of slavery surely? The child is not free to say no to the work. It seems in some cases the child’s “wage” is the education or better life they may receive in exchange for their work, but I do not think a child should have the burden of securing a better future for themselves. That is the parent’s role. I don’t think children are emotionally or physically developed enough to be able to safely work and look after themselves.

    It is of course a difficult situation when a parent cannot support their children, but I do not think this is the answer…

  2. I completely agree with you. Surely a child has a right to free education and shouldn’t have to work for it. They definitely shouldn’t be abused just because their parents sent them away for a “better” life.

    I really think people need to learn more about birth-control to be honest…

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