The ILO estimates (2010) that 15.5 million children are engaged in paid or unpaid domestic work in the home of a third party or employer. These children can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Their work is often hidden from the public eye, they may be isolated, and they may be working far away from their family home.
Stories of the abuse of children in domestic work are all too common. Throughout the world, thousands of children are working as domestic helpers, performing tasks such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, minding children and gardening. In many countries this phenomenon is not only socially and culturally accepted but might be regarded positively as a protected and non-stigmatised type of work, and therefore preferable to other forms of work, especially for the girl-child.
The perpetuation of traditional female roles and responsibilities within and outside the household, and the perception of domestic service as part of a woman’s apprenticeship for adulthood and marriage, also contribute to the low recognition of domestic work as a form of economic activity, and of child domestic labour as a form of child labour.
Ignorance of, or disregard for the risks children might be exposed to in this kind of work is an alarming reality in many parts of the world. It is also one of the reasons for the widespread institutional reluctance to address the issue with speciﬁc policies and laws and why the issue has only recently come to the forefront of the international debate as potentially one of the most widespread “worst forms of child labour”.