71.3 per cent of children employed in domestic work are girls

The world over, around 15 million children work as paid or unpaid domestic workers, of which at least 10.5 million are below the legal minimum age, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report titled Ending Child Labour in Domestic Work, released on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour.

These children work under conditions either hazardous or “tantamount to slavery” says the report. Not surprisingly, in these slavery-like conditions where physical, mental and sexual abuse is rampant — the report establishes through individual case studies from across the world — girls far outnumber boys. In fact, 71.3 per cent of children employed between the ages of five and 17 in domestic work are girls (2008 statistics).

The report looks at the many factors that contribute to the abusive situation around domestic child labour; the vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, the impact on health, how they move far from their homes and families leading to isolation and discrimination.

Significantly, the ILO observes that this sector in general suffers from “statistical invisibility,” and emphasises the need to work toward collecting data on child labour, an imperative to policy-making. This, it notes, has hindered action in this sector. The ILO recommends stepping up research efforts — particularly by public institutions — to improve methodologies to capture and monitor the number of child domestic workers and working conditions, with a focus on those at the bottom rung.

The report notes that worldwide only 10 per cent of all domestic workers are covered by general labour legislation, while a fourth are completely excluded from national labour legislations. As a policy instrument, it suggests that “the inclusion of domestic workers in labour law can make a substantial contribution to the creation of decent work opportunities and the professionalisation of the growing domestic workers sector.”

The ILO reiterates the role of governments in providing more accessible and quality education, and “ensuring this is a realistic and attractive option for those at risk of labour situations and their families.”

The report states: “Measures to improve education and make it more accessible range from building schools to the reduction or elimination of direct and indirect costs, improved teacher training and curriculum reform.”

It adds that a common theme among all interventions to date has been linking trade union child labour efforts to broader national and international initiatives to ensure education for all and improve education quality.

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