These hands are tied

Deepak Raj Subedi


Children are our hope and our future. It is our duty to understand them, ensure their dignity and respect, provide them the best possible life, allow them to develop to their full potential by increasing their participation and to protect them from physical hazards. Despite these accepted facts, the future of many children is in the doldrums of uncertainty due to the political insurgency and socio-economic and cultural reasons. The heartrending fact is that millions of children worldwide are working in arduous forms of domestic labour that comprise long hours of tiresome work, low pay and no time for education and personal development. Realising the predicament of child labour with a notion to eliminate child labour through a global movement, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) embarked on the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002.

ILO points out that the statistics and attributes of child labour are by no means optimistic. It has been estimated that there are more than 200 million children working in the world. Though exact figures for children working as domestic labourer are not obtainable, ILO research indicates that more girls under 16 work as domestic maids than in any other sort of work. 700 thousand Indonesian domestic workers are under the age of 18. In the Philippines, an estimated 29,000 domestic workers are between the ages of 10 and 14 with the majority of domestic workers (36 per cent) in the age group between 15 and 19. In Cambodia 28,000 domestic workers are under 18, of which 58.6 per cent are girls. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, as many as 3,00,000 children work as domestic labourers and in Sri Lanka, an estimated 1,00,000 children are employed in domestic work and food catering. In Nepal, the situation is even worse with approximately 62,000 domestic workers under the age of 14.In Nepal, the most startling aspect is that child domestic workers are hidden behind the closed doors of their masters’ domicile, where their situations have long been obscured from public view and where they evade inspection by the authorities. Globally it has been recognised that they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation due to their invisibility and lack of awareness about their rights including the worst forms of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Most of these children agree to take risks in exchange for the prospects of acquiring education and securing a better future. However, they soon realise that they are trapped in a 24-hour job and that the existing education system is not appropriate for the nature of their work. As a result, child domestic workers miss out on education and miss out on this one opportunity to better their lives. This ironic fact has been the issue of much discussion and debate. Child domestic labour is considered one of the worst forms of child labour because the child is either sold, trafficked or bonded without adequate pay for working excessive hours, in isolation or is exposed to safety and health hazards, abused and at risk of physical violence or sexual harassment. In Nepal, the government has ratified both the ILO Conventions 138 in 1995 and 182 recently in 2001 to discourage child labour. The Children’s Act has been enacted to protect the rights of children and a separate Ministry for Women Children & Social Welfare has been established. ILO initiatives, frequent tripartite consultation among the social partners and consultation with civil society and the government has finalised a Time Bound Programme for worst form of child labour. Child domestic workers require action in their favour. Child domestic workers contribute to our economy. They make two-income households possible but in the course of freeing their employers from household chores, they remain shackled and bonded.