A study, launched today in Delhi and available in the UK for the first time, reveals shockingly high levels of emotional, physical and sexual abuse among children working as domestic helpers in other people’s homes in Calcutta.
More than 50,000 children are employed in this kind of work in the Indian city and the study – carried out by Save the Children over a four-year period in six districts of West Bengal – found that these children were routinely subjected to many different forms of abuse from unsafe working conditions and lack of food to being beaten, deliberately burnt or sexually abused.
Save the Children has welcomed the Indian government’s recent amendment to the Child Labour Act but says it does not go far enough to protect children working as domestic helpers. We are calling for the age limit of the act to be raised from 14 to 18 years, as the majority of domestic workers fall into this age range.
Key findings of the research are:
* Most child domestic workers are young girls who come from poor families and are forced to work for up to 15 hours a day with no breaks and little or no pay.
* 68% of the children surveyed had faced physical abuse and 46.6% of the children had faced severe abuse that had led to injuries
* 32.2% had their private parts touched by the abuser, 20% had been forced to have sexual intercourse
* 50% of children do not get any leave in a year, 37% never see their families
* 32% of families had no idea where their daughters were working, 27% admitted they knew they were getting beaten and harassed.
* 78% of workers receive less than Rs 500 per month.
“Child domestic workers are unlikely to ever go to school, they have no control over their income, are subject to irregular working hours and face repeated insults, threats and violence. They do not get to mingle with other children and often suffer from malnourishment. Even more worryingly, a significant number of child domestic workers face sexual abuse. We welcome the move to outlaw this form of hazardous labour but it does not go far enough to protect children,” said Manab Ray, Manager of Save the Children’s Child Domestic Worker project.
The Child Labour Act now states that action can be taken against anyone who employs children under 14 in domestic work in homes or hotels but Save the Children’s research shows that 74% of child domestic workers are between the ages of 12 to 16. The amendment leaves a large chunk of child domestic workers out in the cold.
Save the Children is calling for clear procedures to implement the law, stringent penalties for employers and for agencies that handle the placement of child domestic workers to be brought under close scrutiny. The charity is also asking for effective plans to rehabilitate former child workers and help them re-enter the education system and benefit from India’s Poverty Allieviation programmes