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Domestic work and slavery

Domestic work is a sector which is particularly vulnerable to forms of exploitation such as forced labour, trafficking, and bonded labour due to the unique circumstances of working inside a private household combined with a lack of legal protection.

Domestic workers perform a range of tasks in private homes including: cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of children and the elderly, and running errands. Some domestic workers also live in their employers’ homes and are often considered ‘on call’ to undertake work for their employer 24 hours per day.

For some domestic workers, the circumstances and conditions of their work amount to forced labour: where employers have forbidden them from leaving the home; withheld or not paid wages; used violence or threats of violence; withheld their passports or identity document; limited their ability to have contact with family; or deceived them about their rights in order to compel them to work.

The pay is often very low, with wage payments frequently delayed. Some domestic workers may not be paid at all or only receive ‘payment in kind’ such as food or accommodation.

WHERE AND HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 52.6 million men and women work as domestic workers across the world, as well as 7.4 million children below the age of 15. Domestic work accounts for 7.5 per cent of women’s wage employment world-wide, and a far greater share in some regions.
 
Women and girls make up the overwhelming majority of domestic workers worldwide, although in some countries a significant number of men and boys are domestic workers. ILO estimates that more girls under the age of 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labour.

Some domestic workers are migrant workers from other countries and others have moved within their own country, often from rural areas to the city. For many, domestic work is one of the very few options available to enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

WHY DOES DOMESTIC WORK AND SLAVERY EXIST?

Domestic work is poorly regulated, undervalued, and many domestic workers are subject to serious abuses, including slavery.

In many countries, domestic workers are not considered ‘workers’ but rather as informal ‘help’ and are excluded from national labour regulations. Often they do not enjoy the same protections as other members of the workforce, such as minimum pay, social security, and maternity benefits. In countries where domestic workers are covered by national labour laws, enforcement is poor and these protections have not been translated into practice.


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Migrant domestic workers"One day, after complaining about my conditions and salary I was beaten right away.”
Read Kamala Majhi's story
©Pete Pattisson / www.petepattisson.com


bonded labour in India"I escaped domestic work because of the violence of my employer’s husband."
Read Angel's story
©Anti-Slavery International


Cyprian, former child domestic worker, TanzaniaCyprian, 17, from Tanzania, has been a domestic worker since he was eleven.
See more stories about migrant domestic and child domestic workers here
©Anti-Slavery International