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Evaluation report

2000 ZAM: Child Domestic Labour in Lusaka, A Gender Perspective: The Case of Kamwala, Kabwata, Libala, Chilenje, Woodlands Extension, Nyumba-Yanga

Author: Dakore Oyaide, O.; Department of Gender Studies, University of Zambia

Executive summary


The aim of this study is to look at the characteristics of child domestic labour in Lusaka. The study attempted to establish the relationship between this aspect of child labour and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1990). This became necessary in view of the fact that Zambia ratified the Convention in 1991 and ratification carries with it an obligation to look into the rights of all children, particularly working children. A first step in reporting on the CRC is to investigate the relationship between the conditions of working children and their rights as persons and as workers.

Purpose / Objective

The general objective of the study is to establish the nature, causes, conditions and effects of domestic child labour from a gender perspective. More specifically, the study aims: (i) to establish the reasons why children seek employment; (ii) to establish the conditions under which child domestics are working and to assess whether relative workers do the same work as employed child workers; and (iii) to establish gender differences in the findings.


The study involved 159 children below the age of 15 who were employed as child domestics. The sample was inclusive of non-schooling relative workers. The latter category was included to capture relatives who are usually not regarded as workers but who are actually working as unpaid relative workers. Since children in domestic work are dispersed invisible workers, a house-to-house enumeration was done to locate them. The research was conducted in the Kamwala, Kabwata, Libala, Chilenje, and Woodlands Extension/Nyumba Yanga areas of Lusaka as a mixed-income area.

Those who were willing to participate in the group discussions were randomly selected. Ten children who were found to be in very typical or desperate situations were randomly selected from a list of sixteen cases. The primary determinants for selecting the employers, parents and guardians were accessibility, availability and co-operation.

Secondary data involved research reports, journals, newspapers, and information from the inter-net web sites. Preliminary discussions were held with key informants. Primary data tool included survey questionnaires, which were self-administered. Unobtrusive observations were carried out during the administration of the questionnaires.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Causes of child domestic labour:
The fundamental reason why children are working is parental poverty. Eighty-one percent (81%) of the child workers said that they were working because their parents could not provide the basic needs of the family. As a result, many children are working in order to contribute to the family budget. The indication from this is that child domestic labour is one of the ways that families cope with poverty.

In addition, the method of sharing the cost of education with parents that was introduced by government, the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), has additional adverse
effects on the attendance of children at school and tends to be contributing to child domestic labour. Children were dropping out or unable to enrol in school, and were engaging in child labour as an alternative activity to schooling because of the inability of parents to pay the PTA.

Other social issues that were found to be responsible for children engaging in child domestic labour include death in the family, giving rise to orphanhood. Orphaned children were more than half (57%) of the sample of relatives and at least one third (34%) of employed workers. This shows that a large number of orphans are working in private homes, as either paid or unpaid domestics, and most of them are girls. 68% of relative orphans, and 89% of employed orphans, are girls. Marital disintegration is another social problem that generates vulnerability in children. The latter constitute thirty percent (30%) of employed workers and twenty percent (20%) of relatives.

Conditions of work:
A major characteristic of the condition of work is that it involves too many responsibilities. The girl workers were in charge of most of the domestic chores in the household. Where the host family has small children, the child worker, in addition to household chores, acts as a surrogate mother while biological mothers went to work. Those who lived with employers were found working an average of about 15 hours 30 minutes daily. Some of them did not have fixed hours of work. Majority of those who lived with the employer, 71%, started work by 06.00 hours; 69% closed after 21.00 hours.

For many workers, 54% of employed and 37% of relative workers, prolonged hours of work are compounded by the absence of rest breaks during working hours. Most of the workers could only snatch rest when the employers were out. Boys, on the other hand, are able to rest because their work environment is less supervised than that of the girls. Another fifty-nine percent (59%) of the girls did not have any day off while eighty-three percent did not have the opportunity to play with peers outside the house. In addition to this, none of them enjoyed paid leave off from work.

Lack of education and low level of education are characteristics of the condition of work. Only one child worker was found going to school part-time. Out of the remaining, 35% had dropped out by grade 4, 25% by grade 7, 18% by grade 10 and 21% had never been. Among relative workers, 19% had dropped out by grade 4, 23% by grade 7, 25% by grade 10, and 13% had never been. From quantitative and qualitative responses, both the children and the parents regret the lack of educational opportunity, which contributes to the social isolation of the child worker and impedes the opportunity for a better future.

On remuneration, ninety-five percent (90%) of child workers said that they were paid. 79 percent of the respondents of this study said that they were paid in cash. The average wage of child workers in this study was K26, 402 ($7.9 at the exchange rate of K3, 350) a month. There is, however, no minimum wage in the country against which to assess exploitation. However, in comparison with the recommendation of the Food Basket by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR 2000), the amount earned by the children is not enough to meet basic daily needs and is, therefore, exploitative.

Though only five (6%) said that they were physically beaten when they offend, forty-eight (58%) suffered verbal abuses. From qualitative discussions with child workers, verbal abuse seems to be a characteristic feature of the work, which most of the children resent very much. For many of them, verbal abuse could be very severe. Like irregular payment, it also results in frequent change of jobs and contributes to the unstable nature of the work. Sexual abuse was another feature of the work in Lusaka. Revelations on sexual abuse indicate that sometimes the men of the house corrupt the girl child worker. Other culprits include male children of the house, male visitors or men in the neighbourhood. Sexual abuse, in particular, renders the work hazardous and intolerable because apart from initiating prostitution, there is the risk of early pregnancy and of Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) and HIV/AIDS.

Discussions about the feelings and perceptions of the children about the work indicates that they were not unhappy having to work to help their families. Rather, they were not happy with many of the conditions of the work. They resented not being able to go to school. Surprisingly, the deep sense of loss, which the children expressed at not being able to go to school, seems to contradict the readiness to help their parents. Children appeared to be caught in the web of cultural reciprocal obligation between parents and children, on one hand, and the needs for a good education in preparation for a better future life.

Though the parents appreciated the contribution of the child to the family budget, most of them lamented the inability of the children to continue schooling. In contrast to child workers and parents, employers were of a different view. The employers said that the children should be happy to be working because they are children of the poor. They felt that they were doing the children a social service by employing them. On the reasons why they employ young workers, they said young girls are cheaper to hire, are more hard working and more stable at work, more obedient and better trusted than adult workers.

Recruitment into child domestic labour showed no regular patterns and no child was found to be in bonded labour. There was no trafficking of children, either from the village to the town or across international boarders as reported in other countries. Recruitment is usually solicited individually by employers, parents and the child workers.

Gender issues in child domestic labour:
The job description of both workers and dependents is differentiated by sex. While girls were assigned to work inside the house doing domestic chores, boys were assigned to do manual work outside the house though within the yard. The prevalence of girls in domestic child labour reflects the impact of socialisation and cultural discrimination, which is known to segregate the girl-child and women into stereotyped gender roles.

Most live-in maids were girls, while most boys came from home. The live-in maids were overworked especially where there was a baby or young children to be cared for, in addition to housework. Compared with the live-out workers who worked about 10 hours daily, live-in workers worked an average of 15 hours a day, that is, 105 hours a week. Many live-ins complained of lack of rest, play or opportunity for recreation. Majority complained that they were not allowed to play with anyone in the neighbourhood, thereby completing the isolation of the live-in child worker who had no relatives in Lusaka.

New Trends in Child Domestic Labour:
The findings of this study suggest some new trends. For example, Matoka found that fewer girls migrated from rural areas to work in the cities because parents did not easily allow girls to work far away from home in order to protect their morals. Contrary to such trends, however, this study found that twenty-seven girls had migrated from the rural area in search of wages labour in the city while only one boy was in such a situation. Some of the girls said they came to the city on their own, with the help of friends who are already working in the city in search of work. The indication of this is that parents are increasingly sacrificing the protection of their children and family values for the sake of using children to generate money, due to increasing poverty.

A new trend is that there seems to be more employed workers than in previous studies. Previous literature found that unpaid relative workers were preferred to employed workers. Contrary to this, this study found more paid domestics than relative workers. The new trend seems to be that more children are going into waged employment in the homes of strangers in order to earn wages most likely due to increasing levels of poverty.

Additional new trends indicate that there are fewer child workers combining school with work, and increased workload for children in domestic work. While this study found only one worker schooling part-time, Matoka's finding indicated that 15% of boys and 13% of girl were schooling part-time. The new trend is for one young worker to do the work of about four to five adults. Thereby, while the number of workers decreased, the workload seems to have increased over the years. The young ones, who used to be assigned light duties or merely served as playmates to children of the house, are now expected to run the entire household on their own. These increasing trends suggest that the increasing desperation due to extreme poverty is compromising traditional norms and values, and worsening the conditions of the work.


Findings on the whole indicate that child domestic labour exists and that the conditions of work are deplorable. The work is exploitative and many of the rights of the children as workers, as growing children and as human beings are violated. The findings of this study establish its characteristics to be child labour and not child work, which ought to either be prohibited, or be strictly protected by law.

The foregoing findings underlie the need for more detailed studies, in order to capture the full extent and characteristics of this phenomenon, which tend to disadvantage girls in particular, especially since it is related to the education of the girl-child and the CRC. The study recommends that in order to drastically reduce out-of-school children and thereby reduce child labour, the government should endeavour to make free and compulsory education, a national priority.

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