‘They respect their animals more’: Voices of child domestic workers


This report was published in 2008 by Anti-Slavery International, the human rights organisation based in the United Kingdom. It provides a global overview of the conditions of child domestic workers, their demands and the various initiatives which can aid in ending their exploitation.

The report draws findings from 20 sessions conducted between May and October 2004, with around 446 current and former child domestic workers. The workers interviewed in these sessions were from Benin, Costa Rica, India, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania and Togo. In India, the session happened in Chennai over a two-day period and included 26 female child domestic workers from Tamil Nadu.

‘Child domestic workers’ as defined in this report include those under 18 years who undertake child domestic labour in households other than their own. The report found children as young as seven years engaged as domestic workers. A significant number of them lived with their employers and were isolated from their families. Further, a majority of those surveyed were female. The report notes that most of the children were unable to access education and many worked in terrible labour conditions.

The 62-page report is divided into five chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); What child domestic workers say about their situation (Chapter 2); Child domestic workers’ views on who can best help them, and how (Chapter 3); The broader context (Chapter 4); Data collection methods and lessons learned (Chapter 5).


  1. The report lists several ‘push and pull’ factors that force a child into domestic labour. Some of the ‘push’ factors – common across all countries surveyed – were absence of education opportunities, poverty, domestic violence and death of adult family members. The factors ‘pulling’ them included demand for cheap labour and the view of the employer’s household being a safe environment.

  2. In India, the child domestic workers interviewed cited the need to repay loans and presence of alcoholic fathers as the main reasons cited for leaving home to work.

  3. Of the 446 workers interviewed, most had started work by the age of 12 years. In India, the threshold was even lower with 10 years being the average age of entry into domestic services. Moreover, the youngest a participant had been while entering domestic service was recorded to be seven years.

  4. At times, children were initiated into domestic service by friends or siblings who were already working in such situations and knew the demand for young workers. In some cases, the children worked in the homes of their relatives but weren’t treated as family. In other cases, certain intermediaries or middlemen approached the children’s families.

  5. The kind of tasks assigned to child domestic workers included: sweeping, washing dishes, ironing clothes, looking after younger children as well as the elderly, washing vehicles, cooking, and going to the market.

  6. The report found that child workers were paid either very low pay or no pay across all countries surveyed. Additionally, although the work remained the same, younger child workers were paid less than their adolescent counterparts. Very often, the children interviewed mentioned that they would send either their entire wages or a considerable part of it to their families.

  7. Most child domestic workers were expected to work upwards of 10-12 hours, the report found. Those that lived with their employers were isolated from their families. Many workers also told of the physical and sexual abuse they had to face within the employers’ family.

  8. Around half of the children interviewed in India stated that they had their meals alone, either in balconies or the kitchen. Some of them were treated as ‘untouchables’ and were expected to clean the place where they had sat down for their meal.

  9. The conversations with child domestic workers made it clear that community organisations needed to recognise the abilities and agency of the children. They needed to design interventions that would education and/or train them, ultimately allowing them to help themselves.

  10. Initiatives which sought to re-connect the children and their close relatives or those that communicated with their employers in a ‘non-confrontational’ manner were said to have the most positive impacts. Support groups consisting of other domestic workers were also seen to be helpful.

  11. Employers and families were the people with the most influence in the child workers’ lives. They were also found to be in the best position to help them. In India, workers listed friends and neighbours as having significant direct influence over their well-being. It is thus crucial to include all these people in the efforts to improve the lives of the child workers, the report notes.

  12. The report considers access to education and/or vocational training a top priority to help child domestic workers and protect them from exploitation and abuse. In Tamil Nadu, the children asked for safer schools, provision of free nutritious meals and bus passes to ensure they could travel to school. They also spoke against mistreatment and use of abusive language by teachers.

  13. Child domestic workers interviewed in India said that they wished to study and would not choose domestic work as a job for themselves or for their children. They would like to be teachers, doctors, police officers or civil servants. Some of them also stated their wish to work towards freeing other children from domestic work.

    Focus and Factoids by Gautami Kulkarni.


Jonathan Blagbrough


Anti-Slavery International, London