Updated: May 13, 2020
This week, we are exploring cases of forced child labour as it affects the girl-child in today’s African society. According to the 2016 Global Estimates on Child Labour, 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work. The girl-child accounts for over 50% of this number.
It is not news that today, in African societies, many young girls are still given away as maids or nannies with the popular normalized title ‘house girls’. These ‘house girls’ take on the responsibilities of the cook, cleaner, caretaker, nanny within the household. They are exposed to poor or substandard education (that is if they are not denied education altogether), and face many more challenges like verbal and physical abuse, domestic violence, rape and child pregnancy.
Of course, this is not always the case in every household. Some 'house girls' are taken in, not as ‘house girls’, but as part of the family. They are not made to bare all the burden of the house chores, and are also given the opportunity to access quality education and more chances at success in life. Nonetheless, can we we really say these improved circumstances normalize the fact that these girls are still taken in as modern day slaves? Young girls should not be exposed to this type of segregation. House helps should always be professional adults who are trained and recruited legally for this purpose. Not disadvantaged young girls in need of support. Support should be provided to these girls, yes, but not in exchange for support as household helps.
There are some policies and laws put in place in some countries to address this issue, like Nigeria’s ILO Child Labour Conventions No. 138 and No. 182. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in ensuring that these policies are fully implemented locally, to protect the rights of the girl child in society, especially from the painful hands of forced labour. Many of the survivors of child labour grow up carrying the scars of their childhood to their adult life, others end up in lives that a below their full potential following years of feeling worthless. We must do our parts to eliminate forced or paid child labour within our societies, especially for young girls, by speaking up against perpetrators of this unjust act, and providing advice and education where necessary.
Digging deep into this issue, we hit the streets to speak to some real-life survivors, to find out how they overcame child labour.
Here are a few of the most interesting stories:
I ran away from my employers and lived on the streets for almost a year. After being raped once, I lost my innocence and went into prostitution. After 3 years of saving from selling my body, I finally had enough to open this shop and I’ve been making a living doing this ever since.
I met a boy while working as a ‘house girl’ who promised to marry me if I ran away with him. I did, and everything was nice until he became physically abusive. He said he owned me. One night, I stole his phone while he was asleep and ran away. I used the money I made from the phone to buy my first stock of drinks that I now trade with and make a living from.
I was walking home after running an errand one evening, when I saw my best friend from nursery school. I told her what had happened to me and she told me not to worry. The next day, she and her mum showed up at the door of my employer's house. I have lived with my best friend ever since. I’m lucky.
My employers told me to go learn a trade with a local seamstress in the neighborhood. I knew that was my exit ticket. After learning the trade, I started making and saving money as an apprentice. After I saved enough, I ran away and started my own store. Been doing that ever since.
Did you or anyone you know ever experience forced child labour as a young girl? How did you/they survive it? Let us know in the comments section.