Children trafficked into domestic servitude in Zanzibar

Girls and women in a Zanzibari shelter

With the promises of better lives and opportunities for their children, parents are being tricked into sending their children to become domestic servants for various wealthy employers in Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the promise of wages and educational opportunities for children do not come to fruition, and many child domestic workers endure long hours, no salaries or education as promised, and have to endure slave-like working conditions.

Children like Rose became the victim of the traffic of girls into domestic servitude. With the promise of economic and educational opportunities in Zanzibar City, Rose left home to work in a wealthy family’s home. There she was subject to long hours of work, physical abuse, and inhuman punishments for not completing a job. For example, Rose was locked in a fetid, tiny outdoor latrine for more than 11 hours. She had not finished washing the dishes the night before.

Such stories are common among the children being trafficked in Tanzania to become servants and domestic laborers. Based on reports of child labor in Tanzania, 131,741 children are pushed into domestic servitude; girls constituted the majority of domestic work with 84.2% (110,911) of the total child laborers. According to the Tanzania Mainland National Child Labour Survey,

the most common risk facts that the children face include “long and tiring working days; use of toxic chemicals; carrying heavy loads; handling dangerous items such as knives, axes and hot pans; insufficient and inadequate food and accommodation, and humiliating or degrading treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse.”

Some few, more fortunate children more fortunate work for families that treat them well enough, but most face a lifetime of abuse and exploitation. Rose’s story illustrates the abuse that most trafficked girls experience as domestic workers. The morning of her first day of work, she was beaten mercilessly by her employers. After similar and worse punishments, such as imprisonment in a latrine, Rose finally escaped to a shelter for trafficking victims.

Likewise, Rachel, a domestic laborer at 14 years old, was forced to work for 16 hours a day, doing everything from cleaning to childcare. Her employer beat her often and raped her frequently. Finally, Rachel escaped and found a shelter.

Because of outside pressure, Tanzania has begun to take the cases of trafficked children seriously, investigating 100 suspected trafficking cases in 2016. Nevertheless, there has been no headway into the agencies that bring the children to their employers. There is no sense of how to stop the flow of children from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Further, no proper organization has helped reunite survivors with their parents nor does any organization formally help trafficked child domestic laborers escape from their employers. In Zanzibar, there is one offering protection for these children, and it has only ten beds. Meanwhile, the warnings from Rose and others like her have not hindered other children from following in her footsteps. Many more children are at risk of falling into the same trap of the promise of a better life, only to be pushed into slavery.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rebecca Grant)

MH’s victory is a victory for all women workers everywhere

At the end of July, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down its judgment in the case of H (Appellant) v Allen and another (Respondents), In their unanimous decision, the Court decided to protect and strengthen the rights of women workers, and in particular of migrant and immigrant women workers, irrespective of legal status. It’s a great decision and an important victory for women everywhere.

Lord Nicholas Wilson, Justice of the Supreme Court, explained the case and the Court decision as follows. On 28 January 2007, “Mrs. Allen” brought “Miss H”, aged around 14, into the United Kingdom on a visitor’s visa. Miss H is described as illiterate. She had lived with Mrs. Allen’s brother in Lagos. Miss H was brought into the United Kingdom under two false claims. First, her age was listed as 20. Second, she was claimed as the granddaughter of Mrs. Allen’s mother. Miss H was “aware” of the false pretense. She knew that she could only stay for six months and that she could not legally work for pay.

Miss H, illiterate and 14 years old, “entered into a contract” with Mrs. Allen to help with Mrs. Allen’s children. Miss H never received any pay, nor was she ever allowed to attend school. Further, Mrs. Allen verbally, emotionally, and physically abused Miss H, and repeatedly threatened her with prison, explaining that since she was “illegal”, if she were caught on the streets, she would go to jail. Miss H lived under these conditions for a year.

On 17 July 2008, Mrs. Allen pushed Miss H out of the house, locked the door, and that was that. Miss H was found by someone, who took her to Social Services.

Miss H sued Mrs. Allen for discrimination, since she was brutally mistreated because of her Nigerian nationality and her unlawful immigration status. The Employment Tribunal agreed with Miss H and demanded that Mrs. Allen pay compensation. Mrs. Allen appealed the case, claiming “the defense of illegality.” That is, Mrs. Allen claimed that since Miss H was working illegally, she could not sue. The Court of Appeals agreed with Mrs. Allen.

The Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the Employment Tribunal’s decision. For two of the Justices, “the defense of illegality” did not hold, and so that alone sufficed to throw the appeal out. For the remaining three, the more compelling argument was that Miss H had been trafficked. They argued that the public policy of maintaining the integrity of the legal process was secondary to the public policy of opposing trafficking and protecting the rights, if not the well being, of vulnerable people. To accept Mrs. Allen’s claim of “defense of illegality” and to refuse Miss H’s appeal would be, in the words of Justice Wilson, “an affront.”

Anti-trafficking activists and others have hailed this decision as an important step forward. The immigration status of a worker has no bearing on the labor rights of that worker, including the right to sue the employer in court. In the United States, women understand that courts matter. In South Africa, women understand as well that judges matter. And in this decision, in the United Kingdom, MH, who as a child labored in virtual slavery in someone’s house, has demonstrated that courts matter, judges matter, justice matters, women and girls matter. All women. All girls. Always.

 

(Video Credit: UK Supreme Court / YouTube)

But tell me, where do the children live?

Maria Olvera with Valory, one of the two grandchildren she is raising in Altadena, Calif.

Where do children live?

Some children live at home. Sometimes, the families are their own extended families. Often they are their grandparents’ homes. Sometimes the parents have been taken by illness. Other times, the market has insisted that mothers and fathers travel extraordinary distances and stay away for long periods of time. And sometimes the parents have been deported.

Other children live in family homes that are worksites and worse. These children might be domestic workers, and they live as strangers in their own domiciles.

In Burkina Faso, for example, children, especially girls, work as street vendors, or hawkers, and as domestic workers.  Legally, domestic work is considered “light work”, and so children officially can begin working in households at the age of 15. In fact, children, mostly girls, begin as young as 7. Almost half of all children in Burkina Faso work, and proportionately the girls outnumber the boys.

The local Red Cross has a child labor project that is trying to help child domestic workers. Other local NGOs also are trying to help child domestic workers. How? The NGOs are offering girls training in cleaning and housekeeping, and, occasionally, reading, writing, and sewing.  The Red Cross is sending stern, `blunt’ text messages to government officials, employers, traditional leaders, teachers, business owners and housewives.  Here’s one example: ““Employers: domestics have the same rights as your children. Stop under-paying them; stop subjecting them to mistreatment, sexual violence, and long hours”.

Who are the children? They are typically described as children “from rural areas where there are few work opportunities”, and so they are sent, or some would say trafficked, to the cities, in this case Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulosso. They have the same rights as your children? Hardly. `Your children’ go to school. `Your children’ inhabit days and lives that aren’t measured by wage scales and work opportunities. `Your children’ are … your children, and their opportunities are the opportunities of childhood. These children are not `your children’. If they were, their situation would not be described in terms of lack of work but rather lack of school.

But tell me, where do the children live?

In the United States, one of every ten children lives with their grandparents. Close to three million children live with a grandparent or grandparents.  Close to three million grandparents are the primary caregivers to the children living with them.  Of the three million grandparents, 62%, or a little less then two million, are women. While the primary caregiver grandparents are disproportionately African American and Latina, the numbers are increasing, rapidly, among White grandparents as well. Of the primary caregiver grandparents, 65% are either poor or near-poor.

This development is considered a social trend. For Latina grandmothers, it is often complicated by another `social trend’: deportation. For example, Maria Olvera takes care of two of her grandchildren. Their mother, Maria Reyes, was deported, returned to Mexico, where she now lives, on the border in Tijuana. Their father died in 2008. Maria Reyes has four children. The other two stay with an aunt nearby. The four siblings come together daily, to encourage a sense of family.  Meanwhile, Maria Olvera is herself undocumented. A survivor of domestic abuse, she helped authorities locate and prosecute her abuser. Now she waits to see if she can obtain a U visa. Meanwhile, she has little or no formal rights or claims to the children.

And if Maria Olvera looks around, she will already know another `social trend’ that legal scholars are just beginning to discover and document: the deportation of grandparent caregivers, and in particular of grandmothers. Parents gone, grandparents under threat, where do you think the children live? Limbo.

The illegal but common child domestic workers of Burkina Faso, the grandchildren of undocumented grandparent primary caregivers in the United States, live formally, officially … nowhere. They are shadows. As nations design and implement so-called austerity programs, the world of shadow children expands as it grows more thickly populated. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is anticipated that, as a result of so-called austerity budget cuts, 300,000 children will be shoved into poverty. Like a bird, child poverty is set to soar.

But tell me, where will the children live?

 

(Photo Credit: Sarah Reingewirtz / San Gabriel Valley News Group)