CHILD LABOUR: World Day Against Child Labour - No child labour in domestic work

[12 June 2013] - The World Day Against Child Labour is observed every year on 12th June. The International Labour Organization created it in 2002 to highlight the plight of hundreds of millions of child workers around the world. 

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness on the issue of child labour defined as work carried out by children that is physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to them and interferes with their schooling. The day also seeks to promote activism in defence of the human rights of working children who engage in labour activities that deprive them of adequate education, leisure and health. This year is no exception to the sustained and growing movement against harmful child labour, as the 2013 theme looks at the plight of child domestic workers who are often victims of physical, psychological and sexual violence and abusive working conditions.  

Ms Jo Becker, Advocacy Director in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, looks at the issue in more depth.  


No Child Labour in Domestic Work

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 15.5 million children are engaged in domestic work, making up nearly 30 per cent of all domestic workers worldwide. Many work more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, ironing clothes, shopping, and caring for children and elderly members of their employer’s household. They typically receive very low wages, if they are paid at all. A survey in Nepal found that 76 per cent of child domestic workers received no salary.  

Because they work in private homes, child domestic workers often have little contact with the outside world, and are at heightened risk of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Studies by Anti-Slavery International have found that 68 per cent of child domestic workers in India, and 56 per cent in Togo reported physical punishment by their employers. Verbal abuse – including shouting, insults, and threats – is even more common.

Families from poor, rural areas may believe that domestic work in a larger city offers a child better living conditions and opportunities for education, future employment, or marriage. However, child domestic workers are frequently denied education.  A Human Rights Watch investigation in Indonesia, for example, found that only one of 45 child domestic workers interviewed was attending school.

According to the ILO, nearly half of all child domestic workers are under the age of 14, with 3.5 million between the ages of five and 11.  Some employers deliberately seek children for domestic work, believing that they are easier to control and can be paid less. National laws setting a minimum age for employment are often not enforced, allowing employers to exploit children with no consequences.

Child domestic workers who are above the minimum age of employment are frequently excluded from national labour laws, leaving them no legal right to a minimum wage, to a weekly day off, or to limits on their hours of work.

Advocates for children can encourage their governments to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention (ILO Convention No. 189), a new international treaty adopted by members of the International Labour Organization in 2011. This groundbreaking treaty protects children and adults alike.  It obliges government to take steps to eliminate child labor in domestic work, and set a minimum age for domestic work, in accordance with international standards. It requires governments to ensure that domestic work by children above the minimum age of employment does not deprive them of compulsory education, or interfere with opportunities to participate in further education or vocational training.  The Convention also provides child domestic workers above the minimum age of employment the same labour rights as workers in other sectors, including daily rest and weekly days off, limits to hours of work, and minimum wage coverage. It also explicitly calls on governments to protect domestic workers from abuse, harassment, and violence.

Ratification and implementation of the Domestic Workers Convention is a critical tool in ending child domestic labour and improving the lives of millions of child domestic workers who are above the minimum age of employment. As of June 2013, seven countries – Uruguay, the Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia and Paraguay – have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention. Dozens of others are working to bring their national laws into compliance with the Convention’s standards.


Take Action:

Urge your government to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention. Encourage it to announce its ratification or make a pledge to ratify at the October 2013 Brazil World Conference on Child Labour. See a sample letter here

Join the ‘12 by 12’ campaign, now active in 92 countries, to push for domestic workers’ rights. The campaign was launched by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to seek 12 ratifications of the Convention in 2012, and continues to organise worldwide. Find out more at 


Additional materials:

Owner: Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.