Children being exploited as domestic workers
A spot check in some Areas in Lilongwe has revealed that people are employing children to work as housemaids and they are paying them way below the minimum wage.
We visited a number of townships. In Area 25, we met Alefa (not real name), aged 17, who works as a housemaid and is paid K20,000 per month.
Dorothy started working as a housemaid for a certain family in the Area when she was 16.
“I come from a very poor family, so a friend got me this job. I came here last year but even though I’m working, my life is not improving. I’m paid K20 000 which is not enough as compared to the work I do.
“When I receive my salary, I take K15,000 and send it to my family in the village. They use the money to buy some basic needs while I use the K5,000 to buy some things for myself. Things such as body lotion and a few other toiletries,” Dorothy said.
In Area 49, we met a 15- year old Charity who works as domestic worker in a family of five members. Sarah gets K15,000 per month. She too spends part of the money on her family in the village and used the other portion for herself.
“I came here to change my life but at the rate I’m going I doubt my life will ever change; K15, 000 today is a very small amount considering that prices of goods have gone up.
“It is also worrying to see adult workers who do the same work we do being paid more than K15,000 yet we are paid peanuts,” She said.
Child labour in Malawi is prohibited under the Employment Act. However, child labour is widespread in the country if a previous survey is anything to go by.
The National Child Labour Survey (NCLS 2015) found that 38 percent of children aged 5 – 17 are involved in child labour.
According to the survey, almost nine in every 10 children (87 percent) were involved in domestic work.
Domestic Workers Union president Stanford Kamoto said in an interview that people are now preferring employing the underage because such workers can’t negotiate their pay.
“They prefer the children just to pay them peanuts. There are many children working as domestic workers in the Lilongwe and across Malawi. Most of them are paid even as low as K10,000 per month but if you look at the job they do, you would shed a tear.
“It is painful, but because of poverty most children have been turned into housemaids and are suffering at the hands of their employers,” Kamoto said.
Child rights activist, Amos Chibwana, said Malawi needs to step up efforts to protect children who face different types of abuses when working in the houses.
“It is sad that most children are being employed as domestic workers despite the country having a legislation that prohibits such.
“I have seen children being employed to sell water in town, some are employed to work as domestic workers and they are doing work that does not suit their age. It is sad.
“The saddest thing is that government is paying no attention to this problem. Both the employers and the parents should be arrested because children should not be the providers of the family. Sending a child to work is illegal,” Chibwana said.
A ‘Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward’ Unicef report– estimated an increase in child labour with Covid-19 pandemic that pushed many into poverty.
It said many children dropped out of school and were subjected to different forms of child labour. Reacting to the development, Minister of Gender Jean Sendeza expressed disappointment that children are being subjected to such exploitation.
“As Minister of Gender, I wouldn’t want to see girls that were supposed to be in school to be used as housemaids. No, not in this era. These girls need to be in school. The families doing this should understand that this is against the law and I promise you that government will act on this. Their parents and the employers should be taken to task.
“Can you please send me their names and their location? I would like to go there and rescue the girls. They should be in school not working as housemaids. I cannot allow such things to be happening to our children. And being paid K15 000 a month? That’s abuse,” Sendeza said.
According to Kamoto, many girls and boys are being exploited and being paid peanuts but they don’t report for fear of getting their parents and workers arrested.
For the children we spoke with, they refused to have us speak with their employers.
They feared that they would be fired for speaking out.
According to Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, parents or guardians are required to protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, oppression and exposure to physical, mental, social and moral hazards.
They are also required to provide proper guidance, care, assistance and maintenance for the child to ensure his or her survival and development, including in particular adequate diet, clothing, shelter and medical attention