Turning childhood dreams into a decent future


Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific

In a hot and bustling Jakarta suburb, a group of young girls – and one boy – charm me with their songs, dances, messages, and laughter. Like other healthy teenagers around the world, they sing and dance to the music of Justin Bieber and Bollywood, text their friends and family, chatter about trends, their dreams and aspirations.

They are the lucky ones. They have a childhood – finally.

These youngsters now have somewhere to go to in their free time, where they can interact with their peers, learn and unleash their creative energies. They sing loud and proud, “I will reach my dreams.”

This place is a learning centre for child domestic workers, operated by a long-time ILO partner – the NGO Mitra Imadei – with the full support of neighbours and the local municipal authorities. It took years to convince the authorities and employers that child labour in domestic work is not acceptable and that these children need care, protection and an opportunity to learn, so that they could enjoy the fruits of “decent work” as adults.

The bright, healthy and confident faces of the children here are testament to the fact that the approach has paid off.

However, meeting with these young people is also a stark reminder that millions of children – many of them girls – face profound, hidden exploitation in domestic work. They endure long, irregular hours of work, arduous working conditions, are deprived of schooling and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Sleeping on the kitchen floor, suffering beatings and verbal abuse, eating sub-standard food, no wages, and not being allowed to visit their families – These are all-too- familiar stories.

Such experiences limit their path to and aspirations for decent work when they are older.

Domestic workers are commonly not considered employees. So employers simply don’t recognize that they have the same kind of obligations that exist in other employment situations. Girls often face a double burden of combining long hours of chores at home with domestic work outside the household. These deeply entrenched cultural values and attitudes pose significant obstacles.

This year, the theme of World Day against Child Labour, on 12 June*, will be “NO to Child Labour in Domestic Work.”  The choice is timely, given the adoption of ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which says only people of legal working age should carry out domestic work, and includes special protections for those under 18.

Worldwide, there are millions of child domestic labourers, mostly girls. Many of these children are below minimum age for employment, while those who are above the minimum age find themselves largely unprotected by laws geared towards formal sector employment.

“It’s time to take action to protect these vulnerable child domestic labourers and let them reach their dreams.”

*The ILO will be releasing a report on 12 June, “Ending child labour in domestic work.”

3 thoughts on “Turning childhood dreams into a decent future

  1. Condition of child labour in india is very grim.They are forced to wok in inhuman dangerous & polluted conditions&envoirnment, although india has ratified ilo con. againest child labour but a lot requires to be done both from govt. side as well as from ngos &social organization. System needs to developed where if a child has to opt for work due to his /her social or economic ondition .The efforts should be made to see taht he gets proper remuneration.. his health . study are looked after well &his hours of work working envoirnment are well defined and safe.so that he /she develops in a good citizen of country.

    • You are absolutely correct in indicating that a multi-stakeholder response system needs to be developed and that all children need protection – especially those that face social and economic challenges. I would go further to say that system must be functioning and accessible. Indeed, the appropriate protections for children that are compelled to work are necessary. But, let’s not forget that it is illegal for children under minimum age for employment to work at all.

      So, the emphasis should be on ensuring that children below minimum age enjoy their childhoods in school, and that adequate protections in law and practice are in place for those young workers above minimum age so that they are not abused and exploited in their workplace.

  2. Yes I do agree that every child has aright to enjoy his childhood .But in many developing nations to achive the goal of child hood protection a socio-economical transformation is required.If the paradiems of decent work& equal oppurtinities for all is acomplished .It sall for surely go a long way to see stars in the eyes of all children globally. thanks for accepting &commenting on my views. nisheeth

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