From child domestic work exploitation to meeting the Queen

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23 June 2015

The change is possible!

By Jakub Sobik, Press and Digital Media Officer

Angel Benedicto meeting the Queen
Photo courtesy of Queen’s Young Leader Foundation

When Angel Benedicto was 16 years old it’s unlikely she thought that her future held being named a Queen’s Young Leader, and casually mingling with the Queen, the British Prime Minister, David Beckham, Steve McQueen and other distinguished people. But that’s just what happened yesterday when she went to receive her Award at Buckingham Palace.

At 16 she was probably too busy to dream about her future, because she was working 16 hours a day in her employer’s home in Mwanza cleaning, cooking, washing, shopping and looking after two children.

What prospects did she have then? Without education beyond secondary school and with her father wanting her to marry against her will, she had to run away to the city and find a job as a domestic worker. She faced exploitation, abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment, earning a mere £6 per month.

What’s worse, because child domestic workers typically have no time nor the opportunity for any education, they are likely to stay in domestic work even when they become adults, being trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation.

Child domestic workers also typically suffer from extremely low confidence – no surprise given that they’re treated like second class citizens. Angel couldn’t eat with the family, she was only allowed to eat the leftovers after the family had finished their meal.

So how did she manage to leave this situation behind and get to Buckingham Palace?

She came across Anti-Slavery International, or to be exact, the Tanzanian organisation Kivulini, partners in our joint project on reaching out to child domestic workers, supporting them to learn about their rights and empowering them to claim them.

Angel grabbed the opportunity with both hands. After the support she received she was confident enough to resist sexual harassment from her employer, leave domestic work and with few of her fellow child domestic workers go on to set up their own organisation designed solely to protect children like themselves.

WoteSawa – or All Are Equal – now has over 400 members, runs a shelter for children who escape from exploitation and abuse, and works with the local community, employers, police and the judiciary to protect other children from exploitation. They also teach children their rights and run entrepreneurship training so they can find the skills and confidence to move on to other jobs or set up their own businesses.

Something is changing in her community in Mwanza. More and more responsible employers are coming on board to work with WoteSawa, people are starting to be aware that domestic workers should have equal rights to everyone else, and more children are coming out empowered and confident to make a move into a life with brighter prospects, setting up their own businesses and finding other jobs. Not to mention the numerous cases they have won in the courts against exploitative employers.

And that is why Anti-Slavery International nominated Angel for the Queen’s Young Leader’s Award. She thoroughly deserves this.

From our part, we are still working non-stop to find, support and empower more children like Angel.

And for Angel, we hope those distinguished people listened to her story. And maybe she convinced the Prime Minister to ratify the ILO Domestic Work Convention?

Follow Jakub on Twitter: @notravic