Home Truths. Wellbeing and vulnerabilities of child domestic workers

Home Truths. Wellbeing and vulnerabilities of child domestic workers

Home Truths. Wellbeing and vulnerabilities of child domestic workers

This report presents the findings of a multi-country study into the psychosocial wellbeing of child domestic workers (CDWs) across three continents. The study was conducted in Peru, Costa Rica, Togo, Tanzania, India and Philippines during 2009 with around 3,000 children, mostly between the ages of 10 and 17; half of whom work as paid or unpaid domestic workers.

A multidisciplinary research team including psychologists, anthropologists and epidemiologists used a specifically designed questionnaire to explore the nature and circumstances under which child domestic work is performed in order to understand how this affects the psychosocial wellbeing and health of child domestic workers. A total of 1,465 CDWs and 1,579 neighbourhood controls were interviewed on a one- to-one basis to quantitatively assess their socio-demographic and family situation, working life, conditions, cognitive abilities and psychosocial wellbeing in what is the first study of this nature and scale.

The findings provide a rich description of the lives of CDWs across the globe and suggest that a broad spectrum of working conditions and situations affect these child workers in different ways. A significant proportion of CDWs in Togo and India are clearly harmed by the situation in which they are working. In these two countries physical abuse is common, CDWs work long hours for little or no pay and this full time work often completely excludes them from the education system, leaving them with little opportunity for social mobility. Our data suggests that many of these children are seriously harmed on a psychosocial level and that policy and programme level interventions are urgently needed.

The results of this study strongly support the need for further situation specific research as researchers found that similar circumstances affect CDWs in different ways. The CDWs interviewed in Tanzania are also frequently victims of abuse in their place of work; some children in this study reported being whipped and caned by their employers but despite this and their similarly harsh working conditions they are less affected on a psychosocial level. The study findings suggest that this is in part due to higher school attendance and more varied forms of social support.

A significant proportion of the interviewed children were fortunate in being able to combine school and work and to benefit from good social and family support. In Peru and the Philippines many study and work and are little different from their non-CDW counterparts suggesting that domestic work per se is not necessarily harmful; however their wellbeing depends more on the support they can rely on and the conditions under which they work.

This study has made an important contribution to our understanding of child domestic work and provides important indicators in terms of the situation and circumstances that most affect these child workers as well as the aspects of their life that provide resilience and contribute to their wellbeing in a positive way. However, it is likely that this research did not access the children at most risk of harm, and is liable to be biased in favour of the least vulnerable CDWs. It is therefore probable that the findings underestimate the level of abuse that CDWs really experience, suggesting the need for further investigation and for greater accuracy, using longitudinal and in-depth qualitative research.

To read the full report, please click here.

Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest international human rights organisation, and bases its work on the United Nations treaties against slavery campaigning for freedom from slavery for everyone, everywhere.