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IV. Recruitment into Child Domestic Labor

Recruitment of young girls typically takes place through intermediaries.36 In some areas individuals are known in the community to act as informal brokers (simsar/a, pl. samasra), placing girls in domestic service for a fee, and families seek them out.37 In other cases the child’s family may ask friends, neighbors, or relatives whether they know of someone in need of a child domestic. Less frequently, prospective employers may contact families directly, or a broker may approach a girl who is already working to encourage her to move to another household.


Agreements through brokers are generally oral contracts where the broker collects a one-time fee both from parents and employers, takes a portion of the child’s monthly salary for as long as the child continues to work, or combines a one-time fee from the employer with an ongoing fee from the child’s salary.

A broker’s interests are frequently at odds with those of child domestics. One-time fees provide an incentive for brokers to negotiate directly with girls to try to maximize the number of times a child changes jobs, further weakening parents’ control over their daughters and their ability to monitor the behavior of employers.38 Conversely, a broker receiving a monthly share of a girl’s salary has an incentive to ensure that the child domestic continues to work, even when working conditions are abusive. In some cases the brokers may prevent parents from learning about abuse, or use threats, including threats of turning the child over to the police, to ensure a child continues working.39

Even when the broker does not deliberately attempt to prevent a child domestic from leaving an abusive employer, girls may be effectively prevented from doing so if the broker acts as intermediary between families and employers, collecting the child’s salary and delivering it to the family. In such situations the broker is often the only person who knows both the child domestic’s home address and her current whereabouts, and girls may have to wait months for a religious festival or annual vacation before seeing a family member to whom they can complain about ill-treatment (as discussed below, Chapter VIII). Equally important, young girls who wish to flee an abusive employer may not be old enough to know or remember where their homes are and how to return to them,  and parents who want to see their daughters must rely on the broker to tell them how to find the child.

Three of the girls Human Rights Watch interviewed reported having been placed by brokers in their first jobs; all also reported having worked at a large number of houses for short periods of time. Samira M.’s experience is described at the beginning of this report. Zahra H., seventeen, started work at eight and worked “every [school] vacation in different houses.” She told us,

My mom and I went to a broker in Khamisat. We paid her 100 dh [about $11] every month and the employer also paid her. She said my salary would be 250 dh [about $28] every month. My mother would get the money, not me. All of the money went to my mom. She took the money from the broker, not the employer.  She didn’t know the house where I worked.40

Salwa L., nineteen, told us:

I started working when I was six. A broker found the job. I don’t remember very much about it.  My parents would visit every month or two months to take my salary. I wasn’t happy and I complained but they said I had to work because they needed the money.  I worked in a lot of houses. I don’t remember how many.41

Other intermediaries

Placements made through friends, neighbors, or relatives are often perceived as offering greater protection for girls, on the presumption that the intermediary will vouch for the good standing of the employer and that a valued relationship between employer and intermediary will result in better treatment for the child.  In only a handful of the cases we interviewed did this presumption appear to be born out.

Amina L., sixteen, started working at eight. She told Human Rights Watch that since then she has worked “in three houses, the last one for a very long time.” While she said her family had never used a broker, only intermediaries, her first two jobs lasted only short periods because of abusive conditions. She described her current job’s fourteen-hour days, with no rest breaks and only eight days off a year, as “restful” in comparison, and attributed the difference to her paternal aunt’s “good relations with the current employer.”42

In contrast, Nasra J. told Human Rights Watch that she was “the last person to go to sleep and the first person to get up” in her first job, arranged through “people who knew my family,” and Rasha A. told us she was beaten, had to get up at 5 a.m., and had no day of rest in the job a neighbor found her when she was ten.43

Placements directly initiated by parents

Four of the domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed were placed in their first job directly by a parent. They appear to have come from some of the poorest families, and the parents’ having initiated placements may reflect the relative poverty of their families’ social networks, as well as the parents’ desire to save the expense of a broker. 

Najat Z., eleven, left school in second grade to join her parents and six siblings begging. She explained how she and one of her two sisters later found work as child domestics:

When my father is begging he is often asked if he has girls who can work. That is how he found my job. I earn 200 dh (about $22) a month, but my father gets it all. I don’t get clothes or anything else from the employer. My father and mother come to get the money every month, but I only see them for a short time.44

Abeer T., twenty-one, told Human Rights Watch she began working at age five and was the only wage earner in her family. Shaima J., fourteen, told us she began work at ten “because my father said I had to,” while Hiba Kh., twelve, told us she started working two months earlier because, “my father was in the hospital and we needed money to buy medicine.”45

V. Physical and Verbal Abuse, and Sexual Harassment and Exploitation

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., fourteen, describing her first job, at age ten, in an interview in Marrakech on May 20, 2005

Domestic workers, especially those who live on the premises where they work, are highly vulnerable to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse because they are hidden from public scrutiny and thus less able to seek help or have others intervene on their behalf. The risk of abuse is particularly great for younger child domestics, who typically have fewer opportunities to leave or seek protection outside their workplace. Under the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, any work that “exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse” falls under the international prohibition on harmful or hazardous child labor.46

Physical and verbal abuse

Eight of the fifteen domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed reported being subjected to physical abuse by their employers while they were children.47 In most cases the abuse was described as slapping with a hand or pulling the child by her hair, but in some instances domestics said that it included knocking the child against a wall or other surface, beating with shoes, sticks, belts, or electrical cables, or choking. Domestics told us that employers who used physical violence typically did so to punish children for minor accidents involving breakage and minor infractions such as cleaning poorly or responding slowly to an order.48

Saida B., fifteen, told us,

If I did something the employer didn’t like she would grab my hair and hit my head on the wall. She would say things like, “I don’t pay you to play and watch TV! You don’t wash the dishes well! I pay your mother good money and you don’t do anything [to deserve it]. I pay her out of friendship.”… Once I forgot clothes in the washer and they started to smell so she grabbed my head and tried to stick it in the washing machine. I ran away after that but my sister stayed.49

Najat Z., eleven, told us,

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.50

Zahra H., who began working at eight, told us her first employer “hit me a lot. When I broke things or didn’t do something she would hit me.  If I went out and didn’t come back quickly she would hit me. She hit me with her hand on my face or she would pull my hair.”51

Activists working with child domestics told Human Rights Watch that serious injuries were not uncommon. Rajae al Meskouri, a social worker with the Association Solidarité Féminine described one particularly bad case she investigated in March 2005. The child, an eleven-year-old orphan, had been placed by a broker and relatives became concerned when the broker refused to tell them where she was.

We made appointments three times to visit the girl but every time it was called off. Finally we had to use a lawyer to threaten the employer with legal action in order to see the girl. We made the appointment and went to the house but no one answered the door. We went again with the sister, lawyer, and another social worker and finally saw the girl. The employer insisted that she treated the girl like a daughter, but I felt she wasn’t acting right, that she was being beaten. I asked about school and health care but the employer said she had not done either, although the girl had been there for five months. She said she didn’t have enough money and was planning to do it at an undetermined time in the future….

I could see in the girl’s eyes a deep sadness, a sense of deep isolation. She couldn’t even raise her voice loud enough for us to hear her. We saw burns on her head, hands, feet and back, and evidence of broken bones—bones that had not healed properly on her arm and on a lower leg, and a rib on her back, and on her left shoulder, which was smaller than the right. The broken bones were older, but the burns were recent and so were the burn marks on her head and neck…. The girl said the burns on her hand were from the employer as were the recent deep burns on her neck, from a hot skewer. The employer said the girl was playing with it and burned herself but the girl said the employer did it. Who plays with a hot skewer on their neck?52

Staff at a Marrakech NGO working with women and child victims of violence told Human Rights Watch, “We take about 100 cases of violence against children a year. Most of the children are child maids or working in workshops. Most of the girls working as maids in Casa[blanca] and Rabat are from the Marrakech area.”53

The domestics we interviewed reported that employers who used physical violence against children also typically used degrading or threatening language, as did almost every employer whom children said did not use physical violence. For example, fifteen-year-old Saida B. told Human Rights Watch, “[The employer’s] twenty-one-year-old son used bad curses….The son used bad language but he didn’t hit me or harass me sexually. He would curse me when he was mad at his girlfriend.”54 

Activists working with street children and child domestics told Human Rights Watch that sexual violence by child domestics’ employers or employers’ family members is not uncommon, and that girls fleeing abusive employers are at special risk of sexual violence and recruitment for prostitution if they spend one or more nights on the street.55 This view is shared by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, who found “a high incidence of rape and ill-treatment of child maids” during her 2000 investigation of Morocco.56 None of the domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed reported having suffered sexual violence while working, although two did report sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and exploitation

Two of the fifteen domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed reported having left jobs because of sexual harassment—one when sixteen, and one in two separate jobs when she was “about nineteen.”57 Both declined to give details of the harassment. Zahra H., seventeen, told Human Rights Watch that the son of one of her employers had harassed her.58 Nasra J., twenty, told us, that she had faced harassment twice. In the first case “the wife was nice but the husband was not nice, he would harass me [sexually], so I left without telling the wife why…. In the third house [I worked in] the wife and daughter were nice but the son would harass me. The husband believed me but the wife said, ‘no, my son wouldn’t do that,’ so I left.”59

Activists working with current and former child domestics told Human Rights Watch that the conditions of child domestic labor produced in children a psychological vulnerability to sexual exploitation. An educator at an afternoon literacy program for child domestics told us that an important part of her work was teaching students how to fend off sexual advances, but that it was a difficult task because “they don’t know the word ‘no’—all the time it is ‘hadir,’ ‘hadir,’ ‘hadir.’ (i.e. ‘ready [to serve]’).”60 One of  her students, a fifteen-year-old, had to leave her job because “[t]he wife was very good to her but the husband would try to take her aside and tell her nice things to make her fall in love with him. He promised to marry her if she would sleep with him.”61 The director of an NGO providing services to unmarried mothers told Human Rights Watch that current and former child domestics made up 36 percent of her caseload, and while they were not always victims of sexual violence the younger girls in particular were vulnerable to sexual exploitation, “because they want to have the emotional relationship of family and childhood that they missed out on in their own lives, [so] they often sought the tenderness they had missed in their own childhoods.”62 A 2002 government study found that current and former domestics accounted for the largest percentage of unwed mothers in the Casablanca area, and that many had first worked as child domestics.63

[36]  For a discussion of recruitment patterns see Sommerfelt, Domestic Child Labor in Morocco, pp. 60-65, and Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, pp. 20-21.

[37] The use of such brokers appears limited to child domestic labor. Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Lahcen Haddad, child rights expert, Rabat, May 18, 2005.

[38] Sommerfelt, Child Labor in Morocco, pp. 61, 69.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajae al Meskouri, social assistant, Association Solidarité Féminine, Casablanca, May 25, 2005.

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

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Salwa L., Casablanca, May 27, 2005.

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

[43] Human Rights Watch interviews with Nasra J., Casablanca, May 27, 2005, and Rasha A., Marrakech, May 20, 2005.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Najat Z., Marrakech, May 20, 2005.

[45] Human Rights Watch interviews with Abeer T., Casablanca, May 27, 2005, Shaima J., Casablanca, May 18, 2005, and Hiba Kh., Marakech, May 20, 2005.

[46] Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, art. 3(d); ILO Recommendation concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (“Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation”), ILO No. R190, June 17, 1999, para. 3(a). ILO Recommendations do not have the binding force of conventions, and are not subject to ratification. Some, like the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, are adopted at the same time as conventions to supplement the latter with additional or more detailed provisions. These provisions enable the underlying principles of the Convention to be set out and stated more precisely, and serve as a guide to national policies. See “ILO Recommendations,” available online at (retrieved October 28, 2005). In describing hazardous work, ILO-IPEC has said “a child domestic labourer who is beaten by family members for real or imagined transgressions, or taunted and ridiculed by children in the family, or who is discriminated against for example by being obliged to eat inferior food to the rest of the family or to sleep on the floor in the kitchen, is experiencing physical and/or psychological abuse…. a child domestic ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, including night-time hours, who has no time off and who is not allowed to leave the premises except to perform controlled tasks, is working under particularly difficult conditions and is unreasonably confined. The children in these examples would be considered to be engaged in hazardous work and thus to be in a worst form of child domestic labour.” ILO-IPEC, Helping Hands or Shackled Lives: Understanding Child Domestic Labour and Responses to it (Geneva: ILO, 2004), p. 12.

[47]Rates of reported violence in earlier studies vary significantly, and may reflect those studies’ decision to conduct interviews at children’s workplaces, placing children at risk of retaliation if they disclosed abuse. For example, in a 2001 Casablanca study, 68 percent of child domestics under fifteen and 32 percent of child domestics fifteen through seventeen reported being punished; 85.3 percent  of the under fifteens were punished with insults, and 10.7 percent reported being punished physically, compared with 88.2 percent and 7.5 percent of the fifteen through seventeen year olds.  The study for Morocco’s 1999 National and Sectoral Plan on Child Labor found 60 percent of child domestics subjected to treatment that reached the level of violence, including 13 percent who were subjected to “beating, burning, biting, and imprisonment.”  Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 57; al Manasif,  Children's Work in Morocco: Diagnosis and Suggested National and Sectoral Plans, p. 73.

[48] Similarly, in the Casablanca study cited above, the primary reasons given for punishment were poorly done work (38.1 percent of under fifteens, and 50.5 percent of fifteen through seventeen year olds), breaking an object (29.9 percent of under fifteens and 28 percent of fifteen through seventeen year olds), being late returning (19.8 percent of under fifteens and 7.5 percent of fifteen through seventeen year olds), and not caring for an infant well (10.7 percent of under fifteens and 12.9 percent of fifteen through seventeen year olds). Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 58.

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

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Najat Z., Marrakech, May 20, 2005.

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

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajae al Meskouri, social assistant, Association Solidarité Féminine, Casablanca, May 25, 2005.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Nadia `Abbasi, Association Ennakhil pour la Femme et l’Enfant, Marrakech, May 19, 2005.

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

[55] The 2001 Casablanca survey of child domestics found that 4.2 percent of the 529 child domestics interviewed reported having been subjected to “sexual abuse” by an employer and having to change the place of employment as a result. Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 29. However, staff at Association Bayti, a Moroccan NGO that participated in the Casablanca study, told Human Rights Watch that in their experience working with child domestics, sexual harassment and sexual violence was much more prevalent. They attributed the difference in the survey’s findings and their own to an extreme stigmatization of victims of sexual violence that frequently results in underreporting, and to the survey’s methods, which they said were based on interviews conducted in the presence of the employer. Human Rights Watch interview with Amina L’Naum, program coordinator, and Yamna Taltit, family program coordinator, Association Bayti, Casablanca, May 17, 2005. Human Rights Watch interview with Najat Oulami and Jamila Tounfi, Association al Aman pour le développment de la femme, Marrakech, May 20, 2005.

[56] For example, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography  reported that during her 2000 visit to Morocco the Minister for Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Parliamentary Commission on Social Affairs all “confirmed that there was a high incidence of rape and ill-treatment of child maids.” She also noted an increase in the number of girls living on the street, “invariably child maids who have run away from intolerable working conditions, which may have included sexual abuse by her employer or members of the employer’s family,” saying that “they are at a very high risk of being raped and being picked up by recruiters for use in prostitution.” Report on the mission of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children to the Kingdom of Morocco (28 February-3 March 2000), November 7, 2000, E/CN.4/2001/78/Add.1, paras. 18-19, 37-39.

[57] Human Rights Watch interviews with Nasra J., Casablanca, May 27, 2005, and Zahra H., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.

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

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Nasra J., Casablanca, May 27, 2005.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with a teacher at Markaz Sa’d bin Abi Waqas afternoon literacy program for child domestic workers, Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Nabila Tbeur, director,  Institution Nationale de Solidarité avec les Femmes en détresse (INSAF), Casablanca, May 26, 2005.

[63] The study, sponsored by UNICEF, the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), found that 38 percent had begun working before fifteen, 41 percent had first worked as domestics, and 29 percent were domestics at the start of their pregnancies. Royaume du Maroc, Haut Commissariate au Plan, Direction Regionale du Grand Casablanca, Etude sur les Meres Celibataries et les enfants nes hors marriage dans la wilaya de Casablanca, 2004, p. 89, 90, 99.

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