December 20, 2005

VIII. Lack of Access to Complaint Mechanisms

The Moroccan Labor Code denies child domestics access to the primary mechanism protecting workers: as domestic workers they are excluded from the Labor Code's provisions on conditions of employment, and labor inspectors are not authorized to enter private homes so they cannot effectively enforce the Labor Code's minimum age of employment.[113] Child domestic workers' ability to make complaints about ill-treatment and to seek assistance leaving an abusive workplace is further constrained by their isolation from family, peers, and outsiders who could potentially intervene on their behalf.

Seventeen-year-old Zahra H. told us,

[The employer] used bad language all the time, but if I broke something she would hit me or pull my hair. When I was fed up I couldn't go out. I wouldn't tell her [that I wanted to go out] because I knew she would say no and anyway there wasn't anyplace to go-I don't have family here. When I did go out I came to [an NGO working with child domestics]. I found it by accident. I was walking in the street and I told someone [about my situation] and that person told me to go to a police officer and say what happened, but I was afraid. I sat in the train station for a long time and a police officer saw me and asked me if I wanted to go home but I was afraid [to tell him my story.] After a while I told him and he took me to the [NGO] office at the train station and they brought me here.[114]

Younger children's opportunities to leave an abusive workplace without assistance are particularly limited. Because of their age, they are less likely to be allowed out of the house alone, and thus have fewer opportunities to run away or complain to someone outside the household. Very young children, and particularly children from the countryside, may have no idea how to navigate a large city, how to find transport home, or even exactly where home is.According to UNICEF, "[v]ery young girls who flee abusive jobs often don't know where to go so they end up on the street or in the [`Abdelsalem] BennaniCenter [a juvenile detention facility that also houses abandoned children]."[115]

Several children told Human Rights Watch that they relied on annual visits home to convince their parents to remove them from an abusive work situation.[116] This was especially true for girls who do not receive family visits at their place of employment.[117] Amina L. told us she was able to end her first job, which began when she was eight, in this way. "I would eat alone, sleep alone, and I didn't go to school. The work was very hard so I didn't stay there long. When I went home I cried and refused to go back."[118] Loubna G., who started work at ten, told us she worked for two years before she was able to quit her first job in this way: "When I went home I didn't go back."[119]

Infrequent contact between parents and children may make parents less able to recognize signs of abuse, particularly if, as one study has suggested, parents' desire to protect their children conflicts with their desire for the child to continue to bring in needed income. Conversely, children who feel intense pressure to provide for their families may be slower to complain to parents about abusive employers if they feel that it will do no good or that their families depend on them. In some instances children told us when they did complain to parents about abuse their parents appeared to be slow to take action to remove children from abusive households. For example, Saida B., the fifteen-year-old who ran away after her employer tried to thrust her head in a washing machine, told us she had previously complained to her mother about abuses, without relief: "I would see [my mother] once a month when she came to the house to get the money. When I told my mother about the problems she would curse me and I was afraid to tell her that I didn't want to work in houses because she is easily angered (`asabiya)."[120] Zahra H., seventeen, described the reaction when she told her mother her employer's son was sexually harassing her:

The first time was when I was sixteen. I told my mother and she said don't worry about it. She was afraid because they were giving hermoney-I was earning 500 dh (about $55) per month then-and she was afraid if I came home I wouldn't find another job.I ran away from that house while they were sleeping.[121]

[113] See Chapter XI for a more detailed discussion of child domestics' exclusion from the protection of the law and the government's failure to enforce other relevant criminal legislation.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Zahra H., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajae Berrada, UNICEF/Morocco child protection officer, Rabat, May 18, 2005.

[116]The 2001 Casablanca study of child domestics found that only 56.9 percent of girls under fifteen visited their families while working, and of those, 61.2 percent only visited their families on religious holidays, and 33.1 percent only visited during the annual vacation. Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 43.

[117]The 2001 Casablanca study of child domestics found that 29.7 percent of girls under fifteen and 43.2 percent of girls fifteen through seventeen did not receive family visits at their place of employment. Of the girls under fifteen who did receive family visits, 74.5 percent described the visits as being solely to collect the girl's salary.Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 43.

[118]Human Rights Watch interview with Amina L., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

[119]Human Rights Watch interview with Loubna G., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

[120]Human Rights Watch interview with Saida B., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.

[121]Human Rights Watch interview with Zahra H., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.