Tens of thousands of girls working as domestics in Morocco face physical and psychological abuse as well as economic exploitation, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Moroccan law denies these children basic labor rights, and the authorities rarely punish employers who abuse them.
The 60-page report, “Inside the Home, Outside the Law: Abuse of Child Domestic Workers in Morocco,” documents cases of girls as young as five working 100 or more hours per week, without rest breaks or days off, for as little as six and a half Moroccan dirhams (about 70 U.S. cents) a day.
Current and former child domestics describe frequent physical and verbal abuse, denial of education and of adequate food and medical care, and sexual harassment by employers or their relatives. Some domestics said that employers forced them to work against their will by beating them, locking them indoors, or refusing to pay those who wanted to quit.
“There is a myth that these girls are improving themselves by working,” said Clarisa Bencomo, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The reality is that far too many girls end up suffering lasting physical and psychological harm.”
Young and often illiterate, child domestics frequently lack the skills and the opportunities to seek help in leaving abusive workplaces. Hidden away in private homes, most do not attend school, rarely go out except for brief errands, and have only infrequent contact with their families. Some girls are brave enough or desperate enough to risk running away. But many more put up with abuse because they lack money and knowledge about how to return home, fear employers’ threats of violence or denunciation to police, or fear getting lost or attacked if they try to make it home on their own.
Morocco’s Labor Code does not regulate domestic work, and labor inspectors are not authorized to enter private homes to investigate violations of the legal ban on employment of children under 15. Police, prosecutors, and judges rarely enforce Penal Code protections against abuse in cases involving child domestics. Government child protection programs rarely prioritize child domestic labor, are poorly coordinated and lack sufficient funds for implementation. Few programs actively remove children from the worst forms of child labor, including domestic labor, and those that do exist have been largely pilot programs with limited scope and success.
Human Rights Watch called on the Moroccan government to enforce the legal minimum age of 15 for all child workers, ensure domestic workers the same rights as other workers, eliminate the worst forms of child domestic labor, and sanction employers and labor recruiters who abuse children.
Select testimonies from child domestics quoted in the report:
If something happened—if I broke something or did something badly—they would beat me with a shoe or a belt on any part of my body. I couldn’t leave the house—they would lock the door when they left… Both the husband and the wife hit me. My family saw me twice in the year that I worked. They came to visit me at the house but the employer sat with us during the visit and told me not to say anything bad or she would beat me more. When my mother came the last time to visit I told her I wouldn’t stay at that house anymore. I said, “Either I go with you or I will run away or kill myself.”
—Rasha A., 14, describing her first job, at age ten
If something broke, like dishes or a glass, they would tell me they would take the money out of my pay and they beat me. They used an electric cord… Both the husband and the wife were mean to me. The husband would complain if I didn’t wash the clothes well or didn’t bring the breakfast fast enough. He used bad language too.
—Najat Z., 11, describing a recent job
[My employer] was a [government] employee with a husband and a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old child. They knew I had no place to go and they said, “Consider us to be like your parents.” They asked me what I wanted for a salary and I didn’t know what to say so she said 200 dirham per month [about U.S.$22]. I had to take the girl to the nursery and watch the smaller child and do all the housework—cooking, hand washing clothes, cleaning the whole house.
—Shadia A., describing her second job, at 15