In Mauritanian households, very young children – sometimes only just six years old – are employed as domestic servants. For many hours a day they do household chores that are hard, at times even putting their health at risk, without any adequate protective measures. During her visit to Switzerland we had a chance to meet Aminétou Ely, President of the Association des Femmes Chefs de Familles (AFCF ), (Association of Women Heads of Households), a leading human rights campaigner and a partner of Terre des hommes (Tdh). In this interview she told us about the projects her association runs and about her fight to protect the young girls exploited as domestic servants.
Domestic service, still a widespread practice
In Mauritania, one of the world’s poorest countries, domestic service remains widespread. The economic conditions of many families make it necessary for the young children – mainly the girls – to be sent to other houses to carry out various domestic tasks. A joint study by the AFCF and Tdh showed that girls under 12 working as domestic servants represented nearly 60% of the workforce encountered. These children, living in precarious conditions, are particularly vulnerable to the bad treatment, exploitation and sexual abuse that, hidden from public view, is difficult to recognize and seldom denounced.
“I support a just State”
Aminétou Ely is a woman of conviction who defends the values of justice, good governance and transparency. She fights for an end to this slavery and for the victims’ rights to be recognized and redressed by an independent and transparent legal system. Since 2009, in view of the importance of the practice of domestic service in Mauritania, Tdh and the AFCF have been working together in Nouakchott to identify, aid and protect the child victims of this phenomenon.
Prevention, protection and rehabilitation
These child domestic servants are from disadvantaged backgrounds. They usually have no chance to learn anything; their family’s economic conditions often force them to leave school. For them, Tdh and the AFCF carry out measures for prevention, protection and reintegration.
These measures are aimed at warning the youngsters and their families of the risks run by going out to work, and at delaying their entering the working world, thus minimizing the risks of exploitation.
Tdh and the AFCF encourage the strengthening of protective systems so that these children get access to basic services like education, access to justice and healthcare.
Important advocacy work is done to improve the present laws and policies and their application, to get better child protection.
Thanks to measures of economic reintegration such as literacy programmes and job training (aesthetics, dressmaking and hairdressing) as well as income-generating activities, the girls can manage to get away from their domestic work.
A worthwhile commitment
Tdh can count on the commitment of Aminétou Ely and the members of her association. Social workers and lawyers give daily support to these young servants. In 2013, the AFCF identified and cared for 2,150 exploited youngsters. 248 girls could in this way be removed from their domestic work. Amongst them, 150 went back to school, 29 attended literacy classes, and 69 took job training.