by Oluseye Igbafe
The issue of underage house helps is one that really upsets and offends my sensibilities, the rationale behind it is simply baffling. How can a couple be comfortable employing a child to raise their own children? Of course, it is often not termed as employment but done under the guise of helping, training or whatever title but looking at the role and responsibilities laid on these maids, it is simply child abuse, child labour, child endangerment, and even modern day slavery in its purest form.
I thought I had seen or heard the worst of underage house help stories till a woman wrote on social media last week that she thinks her 5 year old house help is possessed. I just had to comment that she is the one that is likely possessed; anyone who can use a 5year old as a house help is not only possessed but deranged. A 5 years old?
So why do women employ underaged children as maids? I mean how can you employ a child of 5, 8 or even 12 years old as a maid? A child to pick and clean up after your child? How much housework can a child do? Their bodies are often not fully developed for the level of work they are required to do and even the hours they keep. They wake up as early as 5am or even 4am while your kids wake up at 6am or much later, does it not prick your conscience? You send your children to school, yet, keep this child at home when she’s at an age where she can still benefit from education; that is cruel. Or you send her to a public school where she learns next to nothing and have no time to study because of housework. She sleeps in class because she woke up at 4am, why won’t she fail?
Let me announce to you, my dear woman, that you are practising child trafficking and child abuse, and yes, you are definitely a criminal! Hopeful, we will get to a point where it will be punishable offense and people will start serving jail time.
5 Crappy Excuses People give for Employing Underaged Househelps
1. The Parents Asked Me to:
Really? Even if they did, you could have said no! The child is too young. The fact that the parents of the child are in dire situations and offered you the child does not absolve you of your responsibility. You are probably the enlightened one, why not counsel them rather than exploit the opportunity? Would you commit a crime if they asked you to?
2. I am helping the Child
It’s in very few cases that the child ends up being helped to have a better life and these instances are very few and far in between. Yes, on the immediate you may be giving the child better meals or better accommodation but you are trading that for the child’s future. This is often the case, as the children are neither educated nor empowered to succeed in life. Even when they are enrolled in schools, they are often pulled out when a new baby comes. What then is the value of the education? Can it be compared with the one you give your children?
3. I want someone I can control.
More like you want someone you can abuse! Slapping, flogging and many cruel punishments can easily be meted out to children but will often be resisted by adults. Also, you prefer a child because you know you can force her to stay against her will. Yes, it’s true that children are more pliable but it’s not a basis for exploitation. Most often, these children also grow to become rebellious and vindictive, they pay back by being mean to your kids and to you when possible.
4. It is Cheaper.
I think it goes without saying: you choose to exploit a child for monetary gains. The parents may be poor and have no option, but you do. You choose a child then save money by not paying her parents with a claim to train her. Yet, she cannot succeed in school because she is often out of school and has no time to learn.
5. She won’t be able to snatch my husband.
This is the saddest and most ridiculous, yet the most popular reason a lot of women employ children as maids; out of fear that their randy husbands would be tempted by an older girl. Well the truth is, a dog is a dog. A man that can’t be trusted with a maid is simply that, a dog. Unfortunately, many of these children still end up being sexually molested by such dog-men and are silenced with threats.
I understand the wisdom of not getting a "Delilah" in your house but to resort to using a 7 year old as a maid because your husband can’t be trusted or you are insecure is very sad.
I must also acknowledge the very few people who do take good care of them, train them in school and help them get a better life. The blessings of this act will surely remain in your life forever.
The truth is, the issue of child housemaids will not disappear tomorrow, as long as:
1. There is a high level of poverty
2. Government does not enforce a policy mandating children below 12 or 14 to be in school.
3. People keep having more children than they can care for.
It is our collective responsibility to stop this menace and ensure the rights of every child is protected. It is time for the government, the church, civil societies, and NGOs wage a war against child abuse and child trafficking in the name of house helps.
If you are insistent on taking a young house-help please let the minimum age be 15 as permitted by Labour law. I actually believe the best helps are those that have finished secondary school and want to make some money to further their education or learn a trade. They are physically matured enough to do housework and focused enough to do a good job once in a good environment.
There should be contracts and terms of employment clearly stated to prevent exploitation.