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I.  Summary

In some ways Samira M.’s situation, described above, is better than that of many other Moroccan child domestics. Some studies estimate that almost a third of child domestics begin working before their tenth birthdays, making Samira. M. relatively old when she first started work. She also had significantly more education than most child domestics, having completed part of seventh grade before her parents withdrew her from school because her family needed the additional income of a full-time job after her brother became unable to work. A 2001 study of child domestics in Casablanca found that more than 83 percent had never attended school and were illiterate. Samira M.’s age and her education may have made her somewhat better able to protect herself from abusive employers, although they also may have contributed to her family’s assessment that she was “old enough” and “educated enough” to be sent to work. “Other children in the family go to school,” she told us. “I work because I am the oldest girl.”

In many other important ways, Samira M. is typical of the current and former child domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed. The majority worked fourteen to eighteen hours per day, without breaks, seven days a week, for salaries between 0.4 dh to 1 dh ($0.04 to $0.11) per hour. In comparison, Morocco’s minimum wage for other forms of non-agricultural work is 9.66 dh ($1.07) per hour, and working hours are limited to forty-four hours per week and ten hours per day. Like Samira M., almost no child domestics received their salaries directly or had a say in how that money was spent, leaving them effectively working for food, lodging, and in some instances small amounts of pocket money or clothing.

Also like Samira M., the majority of domestics we interviewed experienced physical and psychological abuse from their employers, including beatings and threats of beatings for working slowly or performing chores badly. In two instances domestics we interviewed also reported sexual harassment by employers or employers’ family members.

Morocco has one of the highest rates of child labor in the Middle East and North Africa, and one of the lowest rates of school attendance for working children outside of sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2004 study of child labor in Morocco by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank, child domestic workers are “perhaps the most vulnerable group of urban child workers,” and urban child labor poses the greatest dangers to children’s health and well-being.2 Yet the government has given little emphasis to combating the worst forms of child domestic labor. Few programs exist to prevent children from entering domestic labor or facilitate their rehabilitation and family reintegration, and child domestics with abusive employers have little effective legal or other recourse. The scope of Morocco’s Labor Code excludes domestic workers, and labor inspectors lack the authority to enter private homes to investigate violations of the general prohibition on the employment of children under fifteen. Police, prosecutors, and judges rarely enforce Penal Code provisions on child abuse or on forced labor in cases involving child domestics, and parents are rarely willing to press for time-consuming prosecutions that will subject their daughters to stigma without providing any direct benefit to them. NGOs, social workers, and other private parties lack legal status to insist on access to a child working in a private home when they suspect she is being abused.

Most child domestics with abusive employers simply put up with abuse until a major holiday or religious festival provides them with an opportunity to return home. The bravest and the most desperate may, like Samira M., take a chance and run away. There is little middle ground between these two options. Most child domestics work in cities at some distance from their rural homes, and have only infrequent contact with their families. When family members do visit girls at their workplaces the visits are typically short and sometimes are monitored by employers, giving girls little opportunity to convince families who depend on their incomes that the abuses are severe enough to warrant leaving the job. Girls considering running away from abusive employers typically face multiple barriers as well: lack of money and knowledge about how to return home, employers’ threats of violence, denunciation to police, and restrictions on girls’ movement, and girls’ own fears of getting lost or attacked if they left their workplace combined to keep several child domestics we spoke with working against their will for abusive employers. Nor were girls’ fears unreasonable: child domestics who fled abusive workplaces described breaking down in tears on the street and in train stations or sleeping on the street, penniless and unable to return home without help from strangers.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibits economic exploitation and the employment of children in work that is likely to be hazardous, interfere with their education, or be harmful to their health or development.3 Domestic work by children under such conditions also ranks among the worst forms of child labor, as identified in International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. Under that Convention, children under the age of eighteen may not be employed in work which is likely to harm their health, safety, or morals. Prohibited labor includes work that exposes them to physical, psychological, or sexual abuse; forces them to work for long hours or during the night; or unreasonably confines them to their employers’ premises.4  The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention requires states to take immediate and effective measures to protect all children under age eighteen from the worst forms of child labor and to ensure the rehabilitation and social reintegration of children already engaged in such labor.5 Morocco has ratified both of these treaties.

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention also prohibits the trafficking of children and their forced labor. Under international law, forced labor is work or service extracted by menace of penalty and without consent. Those who recruit, transport, transfer, harbor, or receive a child for the purposes of forced labor are considered to be traffickers. While not all child domestic labor situations in Morocco meet this test, Human Rights Watch believes that there is ample evidence that enough do to warrant prioritizing child domestic labor in Morocco’s programs for the elimination of hazardous child labor and for combating trafficking.  In addition, Morocco should demonstrate its commitment to combating all forms of trafficking by becoming a party to the preeminent international treaty on trafficking, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations (U.N.) Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.6


This report looks at child labor by girls under age eighteen who perform household tasks while living with their employers. Young girls engaged in child domestic labor are referred to as “petites bonnes” in Morocco, a term without a specific age cutoff but which is meant to differentiate between them and older girls or women engaged in domestic labor. We place special emphasis on the treatment of girls under fifteen in this report because girls in that age group are most vulnerable to abuse and least likely to have the emotional, cognitive, and social resources to remove themselves from an abusive situation. In recognition of this vulnerability, both international law and Moroccan law prohibit children under fifteen from working.7 In addition, international law prohibitions on hazardous labor, forced labor, the sale and trafficking of children, labor that interferes with education, and unconditional worst forms of child labor apply to all children under eighteen.8

We assess the treatment of child domestic workers according to international law, as set forth in the CRC, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, and other international human rights instruments. These instruments establish that children have the right to freedom from economic exploitation and hazardous labor, the right to freedom from trafficking for forced labor, and the right to an education, among other rights.  

Our findings are based on field research conducted in Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakech in May 2005, and follow-up phone and electronic mail contacts through November 2005, as well as a review of previous studies and statistics on child labor prepared by Moroccan and international governmental and nongovernmental bodies. During the course of the research we spoke with fifteen current and former child domestic workers; educators working with child domestics; staff from ten Moroccan NGOs working in the field of child labor; officials from the Moroccan League for the Protection of Children (Ligue Marocaine pour la Protection de l’Enfance, LMPE); the Moroccan Ministry of Employment and Professional Development; the Moroccan Secretariat of State for Family, Solidarity, and Social Action; the ILO’s International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) program officer in Morocco; and UNICEF’s child protection officer in Morocco. In some instances educators and NGO staff who critiqued government policies asked that they or their organization not be cited by name to avoid potential retaliation against them or their organizations.

Human Rights Watch interviewed child and adult domestic workers outside their workplaces. Almost all of the domestics with whom we spoke had worked in more than one household, and many had worked in quite a few before their eighteenth birthdays. Unless noted otherwise, the situations and events cited in this report occurred while the domestic workers were under eighteen years old. The names of all domestic workers have been changed to protect their privacy and avoid potential employer retaliation. In this report, in accord with the CRC, “child” refers to anyone under the age of eighteen.9

This is Human Rights Watch’s ninth report documenting abuses against domestic workers, including migrant workers, both children and adults. We have documented such abuses in El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United States (U.S.). It is also our twenty-eighth report on child labor. To date we have investigated bonded child labor in India and Pakistan, the failure to protect child farmworkers in the U.S., child labor in Egypt’s cotton fields, abuses against girls and women in domestic work in Guatemala, the use of child labor in Ecuador’s banana sector, the use of child labor in sugarcane cultivation and abuses against child domestic workers in El Salvador, child trafficking in Togo, the economic exploitation of children as a consequence of the genocide in Rwanda, and the forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict—one of the worst forms of child labor—in Angola, Burma, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Uganda.

[2] “Comprendre le travail des enfants au Maroc,” une initiative de recherché commune entre l’Organisation Internationale du Travail, l’Unicef et la Banque Mondiale, (“Understanding Children’s Work in Morocco”), May 2004, pp. 5-6.

[3] Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990, ratified by Morocco on June 21, 1993), art. 32(1).

[4] ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, (“Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention”), adopted June 17, 1999, 38 I.L.M. 1207 (entered into force November 19, 2000). Morocco ratified the convention on January 26, 2001.

[5] Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, arts. 1, 2, 7.

[6] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol), G.A. Res. 25, annex II, U.N. GAOR, 55th Sess. Supp. No. 49, at 60, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (Vol. I) (2001) (entered into force December 25, 2003), Morocco has ratified the Convention but not the Protocol.

[7] See ILO Convention No. 138 concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (“Minimum Age Convention”), adopted June 26, 1973, 1015 U.N.T.S. 297 (entered into force June 19, 1976, ratified by Morocco on January 6, 2000), art. 2(3); and the Moroccan Labor Code, as amended by dahir no. 1-103-194 of September 11, 2003, Official Bulletin No. 5167 of December 8, 2003, (entered into force June 8, 2004), art. 143. The Minimum Age Convention allows an exception to the minimum age of fifteen only for a state “whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed,” which may “initially specify a minimum age of 14 years.” Ibid., art. 2(4). Morocco set the minimum age of employment under the Minimum Age Convention at fifteen, but did not amend its Labor Code to raise the minimum age from twelve to fifteen until 2003, and those amendments did not become effective until June 8, 2004.

[8] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 1, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, art. 2.

[9] The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”  Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 1.

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