In Nigeria, there is a form of child labour that is quite common and accepted, and that is employing children to be housemaids. This situation stems from poverty. For several socio-cultural or economic reasons, many parents do not plan their families and end up having too many children to take care of. This causes them to give out their children to work for others as housemaids. This is also what gives rise to child beggars and child hawkers. But that is a story for another day.
Anyway, in this case, females are mostly the victims and get to live under some pretty harsh conditions. So in light of this, I have just a few questions for Madam. Yes, you who own underage housemaids.
Question 1: Madam, why won’t she break the plate?
She is a child. You hired her to do everything that you do not want to do. Why is it surprising that she broke a plate? Or spilled water on the floor? Or dropped food? Or burnt your clothes while ironing? Or slept for too long?
Any child under normal circumstances is bound to make mistakes. That’s why they are children. Now imagine a child who has to work all the time and has no time to play. Whenever, she is slow, you scream at her to hurry up. If you call her once, and she doesn’t hear you, you call her names and ask if she is deaf. She is extremely scared of you because she knows any mistake on her part will carry with it consequences. This fear is bound to make her clumsier. Obviously, a child under such circumstances will burn your food.
It really is not that surprising. Do you need to curse and beat her like she is a devil?
Please, Madam, stop shouting and deafening our ears about how your 9 year old housemaid broke your expensive plate.
She is a terrified child. It was bound to happen.
Question 2: Madam, why won’t she fail in school?
Some of you, actually feel justified because you get to send your housemaids to school. But then she doesn’t have time to study, because she has so much to do. When she goes to school, she cannot concentrate because she is tired, physically, mentally or both. When she comes back from school, she can’t do her assignments or read because she has work to do. When she has exams, she definitely does not get work leave, so she can read. God forbid, you help her with her assignments or provide extra lessons for her. Of course, her academic performance will be below average.
It’s really not that surprising. Did you really expect her to pass?
Can you kindly stop shouting and deafening our ears about how your housemaid is wasting the school fees you manage to pay. We all know she goes to a public school anyway, so, you aren’t really paying that much.
She is an overworked child. It was bound to happen.
Question 3: Madam, why won’t she be pregnant?
Let’s assume she wasn’t raped. She is a teenager, who is dealing with hormones, puberty and self-discovery. The only time she leaves the house is to go to school (for the “lucky” few) or run an errand for you. She feels lonely at home because she doesn’t get that familial love and attention that she needs. After every mistake, you call her an idiot, ask her who she thinks she is and threaten to send her back home. You call her names or beat her at every opportunity.
One day when she goes to buy tomatoes for you, a man tells her she is beautiful. He gives her little money and tells her he loves her. After a while, he demands for sex. Do you really think that girl will refuse, especially when you gave her no sex education whatsoever? I’m not talking about the use of threats to kill her if she dares get pregnant. I am talking about proper sex education.
This guy is giving her the attention she so desperately craves. He is giving her that “love” that she is scared to lose.
Of course she will do what she can to hold on to him. It is really not that surprising.
Why are you shouting and deafening our ears about how your house girl is a prostitute just because she got pregnant?
She is an unloved, and vulnerable teenager. It was bound to happen.
I know as long as there is poverty, people will continue to give out their children to work as housemaids. They will remain clueless about how their children are treated because they are in the villages and hence, so far away.
For those of you who have children as housemaids, treat them right. Do not abuse that position of power you have. Do not beat them or call them useless. Show them love. Help them achieve their dreams. Since, they work for you, they are your responsibility and should work under the best conditions. If you know you have the inability to love anyone that is not your child, then do not employ a child to be your housemaid.
Employ an adult instead. By doing that, you get to save our ears from going deaf because of all the shouting and screaming that you do. And you get to do things the right way, the legal way.
Because, child labour is child abuse and a crime. Let’s stop being criminals, okay? And if you want to be one, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you at least be fair, right?
NB: This post also applies to people who take their relatives’ children to live with them and turn them to housemaids. It’s the same thing, really.