GENEVA (1 December 2009) – “Domestic workers who are overworked, underpaid and subject to abuse — whether physical, emotional or sexual in nature — are effectively being treated as slaves. This form of slavery takes place in households all across the world,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, on the occasion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
“Domestic servitude or slavery is a situation when a vulnerable individual is forced, by physical and/or moral coercion, to work without any real financial reward, is deprived of his or her liberty, and is in a situation which is contrary to human dignity,” Ms. Shahinian said, adding that “domestic workers are especially vulnerable to this form of forced labor because of the unprotected nature of their work and the highly personalized relationship between the worker and their employer.”
There have been numerous reports by the UN, NGOs and others on the abusive and unprotected working conditions of domestic workers around the world.
“Domestic workers are beaten, raped, forced into confinement, denied food and contact with others. Despite working in these inhumane conditions, they are often trapped due to lack of information or opportunity to seek help, as well as by financial pressures and debts that make them afraid to lose their employment,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Boys and girls in domestic service are often labeled as trainees with a view to avoiding provisions prohibiting child labour. Such children are particularly at risk due to their young age, isolation and separation from their families and peers, making them totally dependent on their employers.
Migrant domestic workers are especially vulnerable because of their insecure legal status in the country in which they work. “Domestic service is used as a cover mainly to lure women and girls into employment abroad, while deceiving them about the real nature of their work,” Ms. Shahinian said. “For many, seeking employment away from home, sometimes across borders, is the only means to escape poverty. Policies linking workers’ immigration status to individual employers, excessive recruitment fees, language barriers, and confiscation of passports expose migrant domestic workers to more human rights abuses.”
The Special Rapporteur urged states to sign and ratify international instruments related to the rights of migrant workers and the fight against child labour.
“Despite the fact that domestic servitude takes place in private households, Governments have the duty to protect individuals from all type of human rights violations, including this form of slavery which affect predominately women and girls.”
In May 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Gulnara Shahinian as the first Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences. Ms. Shahinian is a lawyer and has extensive experience working as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children's rights, gender, migration and trafficking. She is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.