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New study exposes exploitation of child domestic workers

 Domestic workers march in the streets of Nakuru town during the Labor Day celebrations. [Bradley Sikolia, Standard]

Most domestic workers in Kenya begin employment before they are adults due to poor implementation of laws, exposing children to exploitation.

According to a survey by Freedom Fund, of the 406 domestic workers who participated in the study nearly all started working before they turned 18 years old, the majority being female.

Preliminary findings from the study revealed that 55.7 per cent of child domestic workers surveyed were 15-18 years old, and nearly half were aged between 11 and 17.

The majority accounting for 72.5 per cent surveyed were female, and 58.3 per cent had already been a child domestic worker for more than five years.

The survey reveals that the main reason for this worrisome trend is economic pressure on families, being orphaned, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, illiteracy or ignorance of their rights that pushes victims into domestic work.

"Children must be provided with better opportunities, resources and protection to help them avoid exploitation," read part of the report released by Freedom Fund official Melanie Hargreaves.

Ruth Kimani, Senior Programme Manager for the Freedom Fund in Kenya, said despite the Employment Act 2007 stating the children and domestic workers' basic rights and fundamental freedoms, it is poorly implemented and too many children domestic workers remain exploited.

"Our research shows us that most child domestic workers started in the profession aged just 14 when they were not able to proceed through secondary school due to lack of funds to pay tuition," she said, adding that boundaries of what child labour is, and what is an acceptable practice, might also be blurred by religious and cultural norms, such as FGM and forced marriage, leading to children being deemed of adult age and therefore available to work.

Addressing a workshop in Nairobi, Ms Kimani emphasised that children have a right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm - with the child domestic workers surveyed indicating they longed for the same rights.

"We hope our new programme will make a positive impact on the lives of children at risk of, and already experiencing, exploitation in domestic work," she said.

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