This is a picture of a 12 year old child, working as a house help and severely
punished abused by her employer. I saw this report and i was heartbroken. I’ve thought about this system of hiring underage girls as house-helps for a while and I’ve often spoke about it on my radio show but i guess it’s time to start to write about it too.
I grew up with housemaids. Like over 70% of middle class Nigerian kids. As a young girl, i didn’t really pay much attention to how they came and went. Some were playmates and sisters i never had and we got along just fine. However, as i became older, and understood what it meant to be the help, i began to pay more attention to what was going on around me, especially in other families.
Some of these house-helps, were hired through a middle man or woman who had permission from the girl’s family, and negotiates her fees, taking a commission and remitting the balance to her parents.
In other families, children of underprivileged relatives are released to wealthier uncles, aunties or cousins to be housed, clothed, fed and educated and in return, the girl (In most cases) returns this favor by doing all house chores. More often than not, her education is compromised.
Too many times, I’ve observed families in church, at the mall and at other public places. You can always tell the ‘poor relative’ or the help from the others. She’s the one with the bathroom slippers or rubber sandals when the kids are wearing shoes, she’s the one whose clothing is remarkably inferior from what others are wearing. (sometimes she’s dressed in hand-me-downs from the other children but you can always tell because they’re usually Ill fitting, worn and awkward)
Her hair is unkempt and she usually walks behind the family with an air of separateness.
The housemaid system is accepted without question in a typical Nigerian society because it’s seen as a way out for less fortunate to benefit from the fortunate while providing a much needed service for those who need it.
But there’s a major problem with this system that we need to address. The fact that these girls are traded around to the highest bidder like cartels, the fact that The fact that they are more often than not, subject to all forms of abuse and inhuman treatment, vulnerable to rape and all forms of assault, the fact that accusing fingers are quickly pointed at them if anything goes wrong or missing in the house, the fact that their education and future is compromised by ‘benefactors’ who are too selfish to see any bright future for them.
Do we blame poverty? Yes. I cannot deny that poverty has pushed underprivileged families to give out their kids to be raised by other people. I cannot deny that poverty has turned children into breadwinners for their entire family.
However, I cannot deny that selfishness and cruelty abounds in the treatment of these helpless girls. A lot of times by people we know. When you visit a family friend and their maid isn’t allowed to eat with the children, is being inhumanely punished, abused or treated cruelly. What do you do?
Do you speak up when your friends or members of your family employ underage children as servants?
It’s illegal to hire minors under the child labor laws. So if you have a child of school age, she must be in school.
I think it’s high time religious communities speak out against the cruelty and injustice perpetrated against young girls in this modern form of slavery. House keepers and maids will always be needed by families but there should be legal and government regulated ways to hire help.
I believe employment agencies that recruit and hire domestic help can be set up. These domestic helps can be registered with the agencies, they would not be underage and proper security checks will be done by the recruiting agency before they are hired out to clients. It will also guarantee fair wages for the help.
It’s unfortunate we do not have a social welfare system to guarantee education and basic welfare for underprivileged families.
In the current realities, if you have someone’s child living with you to help with the chores, remember that child is as human as you and your children. If you have promised her parents a better life for her, then keep your word. Protect her like you would protect your own daughter. Love her like you love yourself.
It’s not just the Christian thing to do, it’s the human thing to do.