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Efforts against child labour often overlook domestic workers

Millions of Child Domestic Workers, Mostly Girls, Are Exposed to Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking, UNICEF says

GENEVA / NEW YORK, 11 June 2004 –  The widespread use of children as domestic servants is one of the most hidden forms of child labour, and one that leaves millions of children, mostly girls, at risk of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking, UNICEF said today.

“Millions of girls are trapped in poorly paid jobs as domestic servants,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, marking World Day Against Child Labour. “Not only are these children forced to work long, hard hours but they are at increased risk of sexual abuse and being trafficked within and across borders.”

Child domestic workers are a familiar sight in most developing countries, where many children are sent out of the home when they are as young as five years old to earn money to supplement the family income.

“Girls that should be in kindergarten are working 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week,” Bellamy said. “They are deprived of education and play and often see their basic health and nutrition needs ignored. Their well-being is entirely dependent on the whims of their employers.”

Efforts to address child labour must take into account child domestic workers and ensure that their rights to education, healthy development and a protected childhood are safeguarded, Bellamy said. For children to be guaranteed a protective environment, governments must be committed to their protection by enacting and enforcing laws that punish those who exploit children and communities must be aware of the risks children face, Bellamy added.

The number of child domestic workers worldwide is not known, but the majority of such workers are girls. It is estimated that there are five million child domestic workers in South Asia. Surveys have revealed that in India roughly one in five children under 14 works as a domestic outside the family and that in Bangladesh, an estimated 300,000 work in the capital, Dhaka alone.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 559,000 child domestic workers in Brazil, 250,000 in Haiti, 200,000 in Kenya and approximately  700,000 in Indonesia.

Child domestic workers generally have never attended school or fail to complete their schooling. Their social isolation also excludes them from community-based health services and recreational opportunities.

“In many cases, calling these girls ‘domestic workers’ is misleading,” Bellamy said. “We’re talking about children who, instead of starting each day in the school yard are getting up when it is still dark and toiling until night in slave-like conditions. This is not legitimate employment. And this is not a childhood that any girl or boy should have to endure.”


For further information, please contact:

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, 212 326-7269

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. 





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11 June 2004: Interview with Karin Landgren, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection

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