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VI. Other Abusive Conditions of Employment

As of this writing, Morocco’s Labor Code does not regulate conditions of employment for domestic workers beyond the overall prohibition on children under fifteen working (and for problems with enforcement of this prohibition in the context of domestic labor, see below).64 The absence of such regulation has contributed to conditions of employment for child domestic workers that fall far short of the minimum requirements specified in law for other categories of workers, including other child workers.

Underage employment

The ILO Minimum Age Convention, ratified by Morocco in January 2000, provides that the minimum age for admission to employment “shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.”65 In 2003 Morocco amended its Labor Code to raise the minimum age of employment from twelve to fifteen, the minimum age for school-leaving.66 However, the higher minimum age did not become effective until June 8, 2004.  The amended Labor Code also specifies financial and criminal penalties for employers who violate the law.67 However, this ban on children under fifteen working is not adequately enforced.

As noted in Chapter III, studies suggest that the majority of Moroccan child domestics are under age fifteen, and the vast majority of them began work well before turning fifteen.68 Out of the fifteen current and former child domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch (with ages ranging from eleven through twenty-four), all but one began working before turning fifteen, and nine began work before age twelve, the previous minimum age of employment. The youngest age of first employment was five years. A social worker for an NGO working with unwed mothers, including child domestics, told Human Rights Watch that such young ages were not unusual. “We have had cases were the girls started working at three or five years of age.”69

Workload and hours of work

I woke up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and slept at 11 p.m. I had no real rest breaks. When [the employer] would see me sitting after finishing some chore she would give me something else to do. I would wake up, fix breakfast, wash dishes, clean the house. Every week I had to scrub the toilet. I would fix the beds, clean the windows. The hardest chore was scrubbing the sinks and floors and clothes. They had a washing machine but they made me wash by hand. They want to extract from you every bit of money they pay you!

—Zahra H., seventeen, describing her most recent job, interviewed in Casablanca, May 17, 2005

Moroccan law limits industrial and commercial work—but not domestic work—to a maximum of 44 regular hours of work per week, with a maximum of ten hours’ work in any single day, and additional pay increments for overtime hours, and paid public and annual holidays.70 It also prohibits children in those sectors from engaging in hazardous work or working more than ten hours a day, including a minimum one hour break, and restricts their working at night.71 Domestics whom Human Rights Watch interviewed typically worked fourteen to eighteen hours a day without breaks, seven days a week—98 to 126 hours per week. Workdays could run even longer if girls were responsible for taking care of small children during the night, or had to stay up after the rest of the household to clean up after parties. Even very young child domestics often work more than twice the maximum weekly hours permitted adults in other sectors, often working well into the night without days off or overtime pay.72 

Typical household tasks performed by child domestics we interviewed included food preparation and cleanup, purchasing bread or running other small errands, dusting furniture and making beds, cleaning floors and windows, beating dust from carpets or washing them by hand, washing clothes by hand, and scrubbing toilets and floors. In many instances these tasks were inappropriate to their age and physical strength because they involved heavy lifting, exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals, or risk of burns and cuts during food preparation. In addition, ILO-IPEC has found that children working extremely long hours risk health problems and are more prone to accidents even when engaged in work that would not normally be dangerous.73

When asked to describe their duties, most domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed complained about cleaning floors, carpets, toilets, and clothes, all tasks that involved heavy lifting, bending, and scrubbing with harsh detergents, and that were very tiring.74  Heavy lifting can damage or stunt growing muscles and bones, while prolonged exposure to hot water, harsh cleaning agents, and dust can trigger asthma, allergies, eczema, and other diseases of the skin. A nationwide study of working children under fifteen conducted in 1999 found that 82 percent of child domestics lifted items weighing five to ten kilograms (11 to 22 pounds) on a daily basis, and 16 percent were exposed to “dangerous substances used in cleaning and repairs that could give rise to the skin disease eczema.”75 In contrast, the same study found that rates of heavy lifting by working children overall were markedly lower, with 23 percent of all working children lifting weights between five and ten kilograms, and 36 percent lifting weights of more than ten kilograms.76

Human Rights Watch found surprisingly little variation between the tasks performed by very young girls and older girls, or in the hours they worked. Abeer T., who began working at five years old, told us “When I first started I would wash only plastic dishes and clean the floors on my hands and knees [rather than bending from the waist while standing] because I was too small to control the cloth so I had to do it that way. I worked like that until I got my period and then I was [considered old enough to be] sent to do errands outside, to buy things…. I would go to sleep at about 10 or 11 p.m [and] I would wake up at 6 a.m., even when I was very small.”77 Loubna G. described her first job, at ten, this way: “I woke up at 6 a.m. to fix breakfast, clean the house, wash the dishes, fix the beds, wash clothes—some by hand, some by machine—and take the smaller kids to school. I went to sleep at midnight.”78

In households with young children, child domestics often also help with child care, including waking children and preparing them for school, accompanying children to and from school, and feeding and changing infants. A few of the older domestics we interviewed described developing emotional attachments to the children they cared for, but for younger girls the responsibility—and the punishments for failure—could be terrifying. Najat Z., eleven, described her child care responsibilities at the job she had left three months earlier: “The family had two little girls and a husband and wife. I had to take care of the girls when the employer went out. It was very hard. They cried a lot and the employer said that I must have hit them when they cried so I was always afraid whenever they cried.”79 As suggested by the experience of Samira M., profiled at the beginning of this report, child care responsibilities could also mean that girls got even less sleep than their working hours suggest. Fourteen-year-old Shaima J. told Human Rights Watch she enjoyed caring for her employers’ two children, both under ten years of age, although it meant she was literally on call around the clock: “There are eleven people in the house. I am the only servant. I wake up at 7:30 a.m., feed the seven-year-old so he can go to school, then fix breakfast for the rest of the family. At night I sleep with the small kids and I watch them.”80

Even without childcare responsibilities, domestics we spoke with reported exhausting days working extremely long hours without time to rest, play, or, in some cases, without even time to bathe and wash their clothing. Only one domestic we spoke with reported having a weekly day off. Loubna G., a fifteen-year-old who both cleaned her employer’s home and worked in her shop, told us, “Sunday was the day off. I would wash, change my clothes, and sleep.”81 Four girls we interviewed reported receiving time off during the week, but in two of those cases the girls were actually working during their “rest breaks.” Saida. B., fifteen, worked with her sister twice for the same employer, starting when they were both twelve. She told us, “I would get up at 8 a.m. to get bread, make breakfast, then call the employer and her husband to come to breakfast. Then I would clear and wash the dishes, wash the clothes in a washing machine, get vegetables from the market, then prepare food with the employer, then get bread and serve lunch, then clean up from lunch and clean the house, then watch TV with my sister and the employer. While we were watching TV we had to massage her feet so she could fall asleep. Then I would go get bread, then prepare and then clean up after dinner, then massage her feet again so she could fall asleep.”82

The majority of domestics we interviewed received no paid time off at all, even on national holidays. Those who reported receiving an “annual vacation” generally described it as one to two weeks of unpaid leave per year, coinciding with the `Eid holiday. In effect, they were essentially laid off each year during their employers’ holidays. One girl reported that her unpaid “vacation” coincided with the employer’s summer holiday: “The first time I worked for this employer ended when the employer took me to my mom’s and said, ‘stay there.’ After that I worked for someone else for a while and then I returned to work for the same employer. It was during the summer and the employer didn’t want us during the summer because it is expensive—they go on trips places and she didn’t want to pay to bring us with her.”83

In several cases the impact of exhausting physical labor and few if any breaks was compounded by a lack of a comfortable, private place to sleep and keep possessions.84 Kitchens, storage rooms, and living rooms were the most common sleeping places cited by girls who did not sleep with the families’ younger children. Zahra H., seventeen, told us, “I slept in a small room, a storage room. There was no lock on the door, and the window was onto a ventilation shaft.”85 Rasha A., who began working at age ten, told us, “I slept in the kitchen on a sheet.”86

Wage exploitation

[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 dh per month [about $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 fifteen, in an interview in Casablanca on May 27, 2005

Child domestic workers are almost always grossly underpaid for the number of hours they work, and younger child domestics are typically paid even less than older children while working the same long hours. While not all the domestics Human Rights Watch interviewed knew their salaries, those who did reported earning from 100 dh to 1,000 dh per month (about $11 to $110 at current rates) while under eighteen, with most salaries clustered between 200 and 400 dh per month. Salaries for work while under fifteen were even lower, clustering at 200 dh to 300 dh (about $22 to $33) per month, and reaching a maximum of 400 dh (about $44) per month.87 For children working 98 to 126 hours per week—the majority of those we interviewed—that means average salaries of .40 dh to 1 dh ($0.04 to $0.11) per hour.

Morocco’s Labor Code excludes domestic workers from minimum wage protections, but it is worth noting that these salaries are far below even the lowest minimum wage specified in law, that for agricultural work, and even farther below that for non-agricultural work.88 Both minimum wages have been criticized for failing to provide “a decent standard of living for a worker and family, even with government subsidies for food, diesel fuel, and public transportation.”89 

Several girls Human Rights Watch interviewed were the only wage earner in their family. While salaries tended to rise somewhat as children grew older, this was not always the case. The majority of domestics interviewed did not control the disposal of their salaries while they were children, these being instead collected by a family member or by a broker who turned them over to a family member.90  Several who did not receive their salaries reported that their employers nevertheless gave them small sums of spending money, generally in the range of 5 to 10 dh ($0.55 to $1.10) per week. Such small amounts are insufficient to cover basic expenses for personal hygiene, clothing, or supplemental food. As a result, some girls told Human Rights Watch that a “good” employer also paid for girls to make a monthly visit to the public baths, while a “bad” employer did not. Only a few girls reported receiving clothing from their employers, and only one, Saida B., reported that as a result she had “dressed well.”91 More typical was Shaima J.’s experience. She told us, “I get 10 dh ($1.10) per week. I don’t know how much my father gets, but I don’t get anything else except sometimes old clothes from the family’s children. Usually my father’s wife sends me clothes.”92 Zahra H. told us,

I ran away from [one] house while they were sleeping.  I was fed up—not just from the son [who was harassing me] but from other things. She [the employer] was giving me old clothes, so old that I didn’t want to wear them. When I wanted money for the public baths [about 20 dh, or $2.20] she wouldn’t give it to me. She would say “take it from your salary.” She wouldn’t let me use the bath in the house because she said “it is for me and my kids.”93

Unpaid wages

My employer’s salary was 3500 dh (about $387), and her husband was in the security service, and they didn’t pay for rent or water, and still they paid me next to nothing. The husband was not nice—he used violent language. They didn’t give me my salary and they said that they would hold it for me. I didn’t get paid for eight years. They would give me the cheapest clothes possible. In the beginning they would give me 5 dh a week, then 10 dh a week, then at the end 30 dh a week ($0.55, $1.10, and $3.31, respectively)…. One day I decided to leave and they didn’t give me any of my salary.

—Shadia A., describing her second job, at fifteen, in an interview in Casablanca on May 27, 2005

Several girls Human Rights Watch interviewed reported periods of nonpayment of wages. The case of Shadia A., above, was particularly extreme because her employers knew she had run away from a violent father and feared returning home. In other cases employers were consistently one or two months behind in paying girls’ salaries, and then used those wages as leverage to discourage girls from quitting. The practice was common enough that girls who had worked in several houses reported that they would wait to be paid before quitting to minimize their losses. Employers were particularly likely to withhold wages before a religious feast or annual leave, apparently as leverage to ensure that girls would return to work.94 Samira M. told us, “I have worked in four or five houses. They wouldn’t give us the money when it came time for `Eid. I would go home for `Eid and not come back because of the bad treatment. When I would go home they wouldn’t give me all the salary owed me, for example they wouldn’t give me the last month or two months or one-and-a-half months.”95

Activists told Human Rights Watch that employers sometimes threatened to turn girls over to the police in order to avoid paying monies owed. An expert working with street children and child domestic workers in Marrakech told Human Rights Watch, “In some cases girls are not paid for three or four months. When they leave the employers accuse them of theft” to avoid paying them what they are owed.96 One domestic we interviewed said that when she wanted to quit an abusive situation her employer threatened her with arrest if she did not pay the employer’s portion of the broker’s fee, despite the fact that she had no money and the employer owed her 300 dh (about $33), the equivalent of half a month’s wages. Salwa L. told us:

When I was seventeen I was a servant for a singer. I worked from 6 a.m. to about midnight.  I fixed breakfast, cleaned the house. There were four people in the house. The employer’s son hit me on the head with a stick so I told them I won’t continue to work there. They told me that if I wanted to leave I had to pay the broker 400dh (about $44) – it was the full employer’s fee to the broker! The employer’s daughter’s husband paid it for me because I didn’t have the money. The employer said they would bring the police to make me pay.97

[64] Article 4 of Morocco’s 2003 amendments to the Labor Code states that separate legislation will regulate all forms of domestic labor characterized by a work relationship between the employee and the head of the household. According to the Ministry of Employment and Professional Development, the new legislation will include all domestic workers over age fifteen. It is not clear when this legislation will be issued as several key issues, including how to monitor working conditions, remain unresolved.  Human Rights Watch interview with al Sa`adiya Fahim, Head of the International Labor Organizations Unit, Labor Directorate, Ministry of Employment and Professional Development, Rabat, May 25, 2005; Moroccan Labor Code, arts. 4,143. See Chapter XI for a more detailed discussion of the Labor Code.

[65]Minimum Age Convention, art. 2(3). An exception to the minimum age of fifteen is made 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 at fifteen. Under certain circumstances states also may permit employment of persons who are at least fifteen but who have not completed their compulsory schooling. Ibid., arts. 7(1-2), 7(3), and ILO Recommendation concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, ILO No. 146, June 26, 1973, para. 13(1).

[66] Government of Morocco, Third Periodic Report to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, para. 214; Moroccan Labor Code, art. 143.

[67] The Labor Code punishes minimum age violations with a fine of from 25,000 to 30,000 dh (about $2,760 to $3,314). The fine is doubled for repeat offenses, or offenders may be imprisoned for a period of six days to three months, or both punishments may be imposed. Moroccan Labor Code, art. 151.

[68] For example, the 2001 Casablanca survey, of 22,940 child domestics, found that 59 percent of the sample were under fifteen, and 95 percent began working before fifteen, including 30 percent who began working before age ten. A 1995 survey of 450 child domestics under fifteen in eight cities found 26 percent to be under age ten at the time of the survey. Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 39, 50; Mohamad Tahar Alaoui, “Resultats de l’enquete sur les Petites Filles ‘Bonnes’ Travaillant dans les Familles,” (“Results of the Study on Small Girls ‘Bonnes’ Working in Families”)  in Ligue Marocaine Pour la Protection de L’Enfance, Journee d’Etude et de Reflexion sur les Petites Filles ‘Bonnes’ Travaillant dans les Familles, Rabat, January 19, 1996, p. 33.

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

[70] Labor Code, arts. 184, 189, 196, 217, 231.

[71] Labor Code, arts. 172-176, 180, 181, 183.

[72] For example, the 1996 LMPE study found that 72 percent of girls under fifteen reported rising before 7 a.m., and 65 percent reported going to sleep after 11 p.m., while 81 percent said they did not have a weekly or monthly day off. LMPE, A Day of Study and Reflection,  p. 44.

[73] See ILO-IPEC, Helping Hands, pp. 50-51.

[74] Some domestics we interviewed also complained about having to scrub toilets, because the task was both particularly unpleasant and underlined their subservient role in the household

[75] al Manasif et. al, Children's Work in Morocco: Diagnosis and Suggested National and Sectoral Plans, p. 72.

[76] Ibid., p. 21.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Abeer T., Casablanca, May 27, 2005.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Loubna G., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

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

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Shaima J., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Loubna G., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Samira M., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.

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

[84] Lack of privacy, including a sleeping place with a locking door, can increase girls’ vulnerability to sexual violence. While accounts of sexual violence did not arise during our interviews, several Moroccan child experts told us that they believed sexual violence of child domestics was severely underreported. See Chapter V, above, for further discussion.

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

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with Rasha A., Marrakech, May 20, 2005.

[87] A 2001 survey of child domestics found 41.3 percent of girls under fifteen received between 100 and 300 dh per  month, 49.1 percent received 300 to 500 dh per month, and 9.6 percent received more than 500 dh per month. Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 54.

[88] As of July 1, 2004, the minimum wage for agricultural work was 50 dh per day, or approximately 6.25 dh per hour, while the minimum wage for industrial, commercial, and professional workers was 9.66 dh per hour. The minimum wage for the latter category rises when work exceeds the standard weekly hours or is performed on days off or holidays. Government of Morocco, Third Periodic Report to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, E/1994/104/Add.29, para. 141.  Moroccan Labor Code art. 196.

[89] U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Morocco, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005, available online at  (retrieved July 17, 2005).

[90] The 2001 Casablanca survey of child domestics found that only 6.4 percent of girls under fifteen, and 41.2 percent of girls fifteen through seventeen, received their wages directly; 89.8 percent of girls under fifteen had their wages paid directly to a family member, and 3.8 percent had their salaries paid to a broker or other intermediary. Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics, p. 55.

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

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Shaima J., Casablanca, May 18, 2005.

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

[94] The practice of withholding salaries before the `Eid holiday was particularly notable because it goes against widespread Moroccan cultural and religious expectations of charitable giving to employees, the poor, and children during this season.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with Samira M., Casablanca, May 17, 2005.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with an expert working with street children and child domestic workers in Marrakech, May 24, 2005. Name withheld by request.

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

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