Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Domestic Workers Face Abuse

A RECENT ILO report shows that domestic workers around the world, especially in the developing world, are abused, humiliated and exploited almost with complete impunity.

This undesirable situation exists in Tanzania, albeit at a smaller scale. Most victims of abuse, humiliation and exploitation never report the matter to legal authorities. They opt to suffer in silence, often in fear of losing their jobs or falling into greater suffering.

The ILO says that domestic worker play a vital role in the well-being of the economic structure of society. Through their work, millions of individual employers worldwide are spared everyday household tasks. The domestic hands look after children and contribute to their upbringing, take care of the elderly, scrub the floors, cook, clean the windows, do the dusting and wash and iron clothes.

They also discard the rubbish and so on. In doing so, the ILO says, they enable their employers to work away from home while still having enough time for leisure and family life. Despite their crucial role in society, household hands' lives can often be summed up in one word - exploitation.

In its most extreme forms the exploitation of domestic workers adds up to forced and modern-day slavery. Former Minister for Labour, Employment and Youth Development, Prof. Juma Kapuya, asserted at a Press Conference recently that there is no forced labour in Tanzania. In the eyes of the ILO domestic work amounts not only to forced labour but even slavery.

This appears to have come to the attention of the Tanzanian Government apparently because domestic workers do not have an association that speaks out for them. So, they remain sufferers in silence. As they come from the most disadvantaged parts of the population and work at tasks that are highly useful but invariably seen as degrading, domestic workers are almost always subjected to insults and humiliation by their employers.

In Tanzania, most domestic workers hail from less affluent region such as Dodoma, Singida and Iringa. At one time, most domestic hands in Dar es Salaam hailed from Iringa. Today, employers' eyes are on poor, jobless boys and girls who fail their Standard Seven examinations in rural Tanzania.

The ILO says that domestic hands that live in the same home as their employers often get insufficient food - another cruel abuse. Some are reduced to stealing food from the meals that they prepare for their employer - and taking the consequences if they get caught. Safe in their own home employers can easily terrorize an employee by threatening him or her with all sorts of punishments if he or she does not work as they want and at the speed that they want.

Threats of beatings, threats to her family, threats to kick him or her out are frequent in most homes. Whether these threats are carried out or not, the ILO says, they build up a climate of stress around the employee, particularly if he or she is living in the employer's house. In most countries the law does not regard domestic workers as employees.

This unfortunate situation prevails in Tanzania as well. They are actually excluded from scope of labour legislation. A direct effect of this is that they are very vulnerable. They can be sacked at any moment - for instance, if they ask for their rights. Live-in domestic workers should have a separate room where they can rest and get some privacy. Some workers sleep on the living room floor.

Others live in a tin or wooden shack behind the main house. Yet, in some cases, these are the lucky few. Some disadvantaged hands, who are now allowed to live in the employer's home sleep in abandoned kiosks, smelly shacks or on cold verandas. Others sleep in junked boats, dilapidated vehicles or on the beach. Most look and behave like wild cats and do not trust anyone. They are security sensitive and always carry knives for self-defence.

It is these needy household workers who usually engage in criminal activities at night for reasons of sheer survival behind the knowledge of employers. Some live-in workers crawl into kernels when the dogs have been eased out for the night.

Live-in domestic workers generally have to work much longer than envisaged. Sometimes up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Generally, no minimum wage is set for domestic workers. Some domestic workers earn as little as 15,000/-. Some go unpaid for months and are eventually paid in piecemeal.

Others get absolutely nothing. In most countries, the ILO says, house girls, as they are generally known, are extremely vulnerable when they are alone in the house with their male employers. Instance of sexual harassment often occur but often in the shroud of secrecy.

In Tanzania, and indeed, elsewhere, it is these inhumane living conditions that sometimes drive some of the female domestic helpers into street life as prostitutes. The boys join criminal gangs that commit mayhem in society attacking and robbing people.

The then Minister for Labour, Youth Development and Sports, Prof. Juma Kapuya, told Members of Parliament in Dodoma in August 2005 that his ministry had rescued 65 girls aged between 15 and 17 years from prostitution and offered them decent jobs after vocational training.

This was a commendably effort. Not many people are aware that child prostitution exists in this country. It does, albeit at a comparatively smaller scale. As the cost of living keeps soaring, some families, especially in rural areas, find the going increasingly difficult. It is a stark fact that nearly 80 per cent of rural families are deficient on money and food. Naturally, in such a situation it is the children who suffer most.

Poverty levels have reached an alarming proportion in rural areas especially in the central and southern regions prompting children to migrate to towns and cities in search of better livelihood. Some poor parents push their children into virtual slavery as domestic hands.

But some girls try their luck in the mean streets after failing to put up with the harassment and victimization in households. They end up in prostitution. So it is abject poverty that eventually drives destitute children into prostitution. Many others join the labour market where ruthless employers offer them high-risk jobs.

Child prostitutes occupying rented rooms in guesthouses often in the company of scarlet women who happen to be longtimers in prostitution. Guesthouses in Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Tanga, Mtwara, Kigoma and Iringa are notorious for harbouring child prostitutes. Under-age prostitutes attract men of all ages. The girls appear to be more attractive to men because of their robust young bodies.

The girls are also meek, humble and submissive. But not all men who patronize under- age prostitutes treat them kindly -- taking their youth into consideration. The girls, who are erroneously referred to as sex workers, are often open to all sorts of abuse.

Their customers often victimize them. Ruthless men often walk out on the naïve children after a sexual "attack" without paying the fee. They use abusive, intimidating language to evade paying. They insult and even bash the little girls. Of course, the children are in the wrong profession and need to be rescued. But violence against these poor souls is, indeed, unacceptable.

Older women, many of whom hide sharp knives in their skirts, are not abused with impunity. But even here, there are isolated cases of victimization. Sometimes child prostitutes face even worse violence from their customers. Since it is not easy for a prostitute to take her case to the police some men abuse them with impunity.

Some prostitutes have met violent deaths at the hand of their patrons in this country. Child prostitutes can be seen in nightspots such as drinking places where they pose as customers. Sometimes prostitutes double as waitresses or service girls in bars and restaurants.

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