(Geneva) -- Governments should recognize child domestic work as one of the worst forms of child labor, Human Rights Watch said today in advance of the World Day Against Child Labor.

In a backgrounder issued today, Human Rights Watch described how child domestic workers in countries around the world face routine exploitation and abuse, including sexual harassment and violence. Human Rights Watch’s investigations in West Africa, Central America and Asia have found girls as young as eight working 15 or more hours a day, seven days a week, for little or no pay.

“Child domestic workers around the world endure abuse as well as exploitation,” said Jo Becker, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division. “Instead of turning a blind eye to the dangers of this kind of work, governments need to take steps to ban it.”

The International Labor Organization estimates that more girls work in domestic labor than in any other sector of work. The ILO announced that child domestic labor would be the focus of this year's World Day Against Child labor, commemorated on June 12.

Child domestics often work under constant threat of physical or sexual abuse. In Guatemala, one-third of domestics interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they had suffered sexual harassment or abuse by men in their employer's household. Girls in Togo described being struck with blunt objects and electrical wire, or even being threatened with death.

Moreover, child domestics often have no opportunity to go to school, or are forced to drop out because of the demands of their jobs. In Togo, Human Rights Watch found that children are often trafficked by employers or intermediaries who promise education that never materializes. Indonesian girls who migrate to Malaysia to work as domestics are often not allowed to leave the house where they are employed.

As well as depending on their employers for wages, child domestics often rely on them for basic shelter. Child domestics who eventually flee abuse may end up on the street.

In most countries, government labor codes exclude domestic labor from basic labor rights. Domestics are frequently denied a minimum wage, days off, or limits on the hours they work. They typically receive wages far below those paid to other workers. In Malaysia, Indonesian girls receive the equivalent of 25 U.S. cents an hour, and in El Salvador, girls work for as little as U.S.$26 a month.

The ILO’s recommendations for what constitutes hazardous child labor under the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention include work that exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse, or involves particularly difficult conditions, such as work for long hours or unreasonable confinement on the premises of their employer. Under these criteria, much of child domestic work is hazardous, and should be prohibited.

Human Rights Watch called on governments and international agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF to prioritize child domestics in programs to end child labor, and to ensure that all children have access to free, quality schooling.