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(Rabat) – Girls as young as 8 endure physical abuse and work long hours for little pay as domestic workers in Morocco.

The 73-page report, “Lonely Servitude: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco,” found that some child domestic workers – who are overwhelmingly girls – toil for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for as little as US$11 a month. Some girls told Human Rights Watch that their employers frequently beat and verbally abused them, denied them education, and sometimes refused them adequate food.

The Moroccan government has reduced child labor rates and increased school enrollment over the last decade. But it should strictly enforce laws prohibiting child domestic labor below age 15 by applying penalties to employers and recruiters, creating effective mechanisms to identify and remove underage children from employers’ households, and monitoring working conditions for domestic workers ages 15 to 17, said Human Rights Watch.

“Girls are being exploited, abused, and forced to work long hours for extremely low wages,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Morocco has taken important steps to reduce child labor, but it needs to take targeted actions to protect these child domestic workers and enforce the law.”

Human Rights Watch first investigated the use of child domestic labor in Morocco in 2005.  Interviews for the follow-up study indicated that the number of children working as domestic workers has dropped in recent years, and that public education campaigns and increased media attention have raised public awareness of the hazards of child domestic labor.

The report draws on field research conducted in April, May, and July 2012, in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, and the Imintanoute region of Chichaoua province. Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 former child domestic workers, as well as government officials, lawyers, teachers, and representatives of nongovernmental and international organizations. Fifteen of the former child domestic workers had begun working before age 12; all but four were still under 18 at the time of the interviews.

The majority of the 20 girls interviewed said they were both physically and verbally abused by their employers. Some girls said their employers beat them with their hands, belts, wooden sticks, shoes, or plastic pipes. Three described sexual harassment or sexual assault by male members of the employer’s household.

“Working in private homes, many of these girls endure terrible conditions but have no idea where to turn for help,” Becker said. “Morocco should address the particular isolation and vulnerability of child domestic workers with an effective system to remove girls who are below the minimum age of 15 from these households, and monitor the working conditions for girls between 15 and 17.”

Most of the girls interviewed came from poor, rural areas. In approximately half of the cases, intermediaries recruited the girls to work in larger cities, often making deceptive promises about their working conditions.

An intermediary told Latifa L, whose name has been changed for her protection, that her employers “would be very kind” and would pay her well. She told Human Rights Watch that instead, she worked without a break from 6 in the morning until midnight, with no days off. She said her employer often beat her.

“I don’t mind working,” she said, “but to be beaten and not to have enough food, this is the hardest part of it.”

In nearly all of the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, the salaries for former child domestic workers were negotiated between the girl’s parents or guardians and the intermediary or employer. Most of the girls said they did not directly receive any wages, which were paid to their parents. The average salary of the girls interviewed was 545 dirhams per month (US$61), less than one-quarter of the 2,333 dirham (US$261) minimum monthly wage for Morocco’s industrial sector.

Morocco’s Labor Code sets a limit of 44 hours of work a week for most workers, but the code does not cover domestic workers. Some girls told Human Rights Watch that they worked over 100 hours a week, and only 8 of the 20 interviewed received a weekly day of rest.

None of the girls interviewed attended school while employed as domestic workers. Only two said they had completed the third grade before beginning work.

According to government statistics, Morocco has in recent years greatly reduced overall rates of child labor and increased the number of children who attend school. Government surveys indicate that children under age 15 engaged in all forms of labor dropped from 517,000 in 1999 to 123,000 in 2011.

Based on Human Rights Watch interviews with nongovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies, the rate of child domestic labor has also declined, although there is no recent data. Studies conducted in 2001 estimated that 66,000 to 86,000 children under 15 worked as domestic workers nationwide, including approximately 13,500 in the greater Casablanca area alone. The government says that it is preparing a new survey to determine current rate of child domestic labor, but that it is not yet completed.

Local groups and UN agencies also credit public education campaigns and media coverage with raising awareness of child domestic labor and of the legal prohibition on the employment of children under 15.

Despite progress in reducing child labor, laws prohibiting the employment of children under age 15 are not adequately enforced, Human Rights Watch said. Labor inspectors lack the authority to gain entry to private households to identify child domestic workers. Criminal prosecutions against employers responsible for physically abusing child domestic workers are rare, and fines are almost never imposed on employers who hire under-age children for domestic work. Child domestic workers are often unaware of existing mechanisms to assist vulnerable children or how to access them.

Human Rights Watch urged the government of Morocco to expand its efforts to address child labor by:

  • Strictly enforcing age 15 as the minimum age for all employment, imposing penalties on employers and recruiters who employ or recruit children under age 15;
  • Expanding public awareness campaigns regarding child domestic labor, including information about existing laws and how girls who need help can reach hotlines;
  • Creating an effective system to identify and remove child domestic workers who are under the minimum age of employment and those ages 15 to 17 who are subject to abuse.
  • Prosecuting under the Criminal Code people who are responsible for violence against child domestic workers.

Human Rights Watch also urged the government of Morocco to adopt a draft law on domestic workers that has been under discussion for several years, and to amend it to ensure compliance with the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Convention, adopted in 2011, establishes global standards for domestic workers.

The Convention specifies that working hours for domestic workers should be equivalent to those for other sectors and that domestic workers should be covered by minimum wage requirements.  The draft law does not set working hour limits for domestic workers, however, and would allow employers to pay domestic workers only 50 percent of the minimum wage for the industrial sector.

Morocco voted to adopt the Domestic Workers Convention at the International Labour Conference in 2011, but has not yet ratified it. The convention was adopted with overwhelming support from governments and will enter into force in 2013.

“Morocco’s draft domestic workers law includes important provisions, such as an employment contract and a weekly day of rest, but in other respects, such as working hours and minimum wage, it falls short of new international standards,” Becker said. “Amending and adopting the law will show Morocco’s commitment to this issue and improve the working conditions for Morocco’s domestic workers.”

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