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.”