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Indonesia: abuse and exploitation of child domestic workers

Human Rights Watch publicou esta semana un informe de setenta páxinas sobre Indonesia, centrado na explotación laboral de nenas e mozas no servizo doméstico. O informe leva por título “Workers in the Shadows: Abuse and Exploitation of Child Domestic Workers in Indonesia”. Copio un extracto da súa introducción. Ollo ós argumentos das autoridades indonesias, porque aquí, salvando as distancias, as clases medias e obreiras padecemos unha propaganda semellante. A negrita é miña:

The Indonesian government is failing to protect some of the nation’s youngest workers from abuse and exploitation. Hundreds of thousands of girls in Indonesia, some as young as 11, are employed as domestic workers in other people’s households, performing tasks such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, child care, and sometimes working at their employers’ businesses. These girls live and work in the shadows of society: hidden behind the locked doors of their employers’ homes, isolated from their family and peers, and with little regulatory oversight by the government. Indeed, many Indonesian government officials deny that these children are even really workers.

In 2005 Human Rights Watch released “Always on Call”, a 74-page report documenting the endemic exploitation and abuse of child domestic workers in Indonesia. Girls described being lured with false promises of higher wages in cities without full details about the tasks they would perform, the hours they would be expected to work, or their inability to attend school. Most girls said they typically worked 14 to 18 hours a day seven days a week, with no day off. Many told us that their employers forbade them from leaving the house where they worked, isolating them from the outside world and thus placing them at higher risk of abuse with fewer options for finding help.

We also documented how many employers withheld paying any salary until the child returned home – and that many employers failed to pay the children at all or pay less than what they promised. The tactic of withholding the salary deters child domestic workers living far from their homes from leaving exploitative situations. In the worst cases, we found that girls were physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by their employers or their employers’ family members, in addition to being exploited for their labor.

In 2008 Human Rights Watch returned to Indonesia to assess developments since the original research. Three years on, the situation for child domestic workers remains deeply disturbing. They continue to endure the wide range of abuses documented extensively in 2005.

The main focus of our research, however, was the policies and actions of the national and local governments. Despite some limited progress in a few areas -for example, the creation by the police of dedicated women’s and children’s units at provincial and some district levels and the passage of an Anti-Trafficking Act by the legislature- the overall official response remains seriously lacking in substance, coherence, and urgency. The failure to implement effective protection means that national and local governments are responsible for allowing child domestic workers to be exposed to abuse and exploitation.

A fundamental problem in officialdom is a pervasive attitude of denial. Despite the widespread nature of abuses, during our research we found that many government officials consistently denied that child domestic workers are exploited or abused. Most officials attempted to refute examples of abuse that we presented to them by claiming that there were only a handful of extreme cases that therefore did not require fundamental changes in the government approach.

Our research demonstrates that many assertions commonly made by government officials to justify their inaction with regard to enacting better protections for child domestic workers do not stand up to scrutiny, and are simply myths. In Chapter V of this report we use our research to tackle some of the most enduring myths head-on.

For example, many officials insisted that children engaged in these activities were not even workers, but merely “helpers”. Yet our research shows that child domestic workers do indeed carry out activities that are taxing, productive, and deserving of being recognized as work, not just “help”. Indeed, long days of demanding labor can be such hard work that it makes some child domestic workers physically ill.

Other officials insisted that child domestic workers were treated “like family” by their employers. But our research demonstrates that employers frequently recruit child domestic workers through commercial recruitment and placement agencies, or rely on local vendors who draw upon their own personal connections. In this way, any kind of familial or personal connection or affiliation between the employer and the child domestic worker is lost. In the vast majority of cases the primary concern of employers is the maintenance of their households, not the personal development of their employee, so the relationship between employer and child domestic worker is commercial, not familial or personal. Moreover, the motivation of an employer who recruits a child rather than an adult is often to find someone who will work for less, who will complain less, who is easier to order around, and who has fewer social connections. These factors are also likely to make the domestic worker more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and less able to protect herself.

Some government officials claimed that the work conditions of domestic workers simply cannot be feasibly monitored or regulated, and therefore there was little more that the government could do. However, it is not that inspections and monitoring are impossible to implement – rather it is that the government simply chooses not to prioritize the protection of these young workers. For example, our research revealed that even basic telephone hotlines that children could use to report abuse and seek assistance are not answered or adequately staffed.

Officials also tended to prefer to favor employers’ convenience and luxury over recognizing child domestic workers’ rights. It was suggested, for example, that child domestic workers could not be given a minimum wage like other workers because it was more important that a greater number of employers be able to afford to hire a domestic worker. Yet such arguments ignore that the government is obliged to protect all individuals from exploitation and abuse. To the extent that policymakers believe that more families should be able to access assistance with domestic work or child care, then the government should instead consider pursuing alternative policies -such as affordable community child care, making workplaces more flexible for working parents, or more generous maternity and paternity leave- that do not depend on the exploitation and under payment of child workers.

We were also told that encouraging the provision of written contracts might intimidate employers to such an extent that they would not even hire a domestic worker. But the negotiation and conclusion of written contracts detailing the rights and obligations of both employer and employee can be beneficial to both parties, as the process helps clearly define the relationship in advance and can serve as an important point of reference. The creation of a standard “model” contract could help alleviate anxieties over the use of written agreements.

Government officials also attempted to argue that restrictions on the maximum number of hours that someone can be required to work -as guaranteed to other workers- could not be extended to child domestic workers because domestic work was exceptional in not being a “nine-to-five” kind of job. It was similarly suggested that child domestic workers did not need days off. Indeed, it was questioned whether domestic workers would even know what to do if granted one day off a week like other formal workers. These arguments ignore the fact that regulating maximum work hours and a weekly day of rest allow governments to meet their obligation to protect workers’ rights to just and favorable work, health, and rest. No employee can be required to be constantly at the beck and call of his or her employer. If an employer genuinely requires around-the-clock assistance, then a second or third shift should be hired to cover. Excessive work hours and lack of rest days directly affect the health and growth of children. Children also require time to contact and connect with their own families, so as to prevent feelings of isolation and resulting psychological problems. A day off for domestic workers is also an issue of safety for employers and their families, as everyone performs better and with more care when given adequate rest. […]


13 Febreiro 2009 - Posted by | Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Indonesia, Politics, Propaganda

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