About 10.5 million children employed as domestic helpers work in hazardous and sometimes slave-like conditions, said a new report on World Day Against Child Labour (12 June) by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Those children work in the homes of a third party, and are susceptible to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
In India, around 60 million children work as labourers for inadequate salaries even though child labour is deemed illegal here. Paid or unpaid domestic helps are synonymous within urban households. According to National Sample Survey of 2009-10, West Bengal has highest number of child labourers.
"In a 2006, study of 500 child domestic workers in West Bengal, for example, it was found that 68 per cent had faced physical abuse, with almost half suffering severe abuse that had led to injuries and 86 per cent of child domestic workers had experienced emotional abuse. The study also found that nearly a third of families had no idea where their children, mostly daughters, were working, and 27 per cent admitted they knew that they were being beaten and harassed.
The study also revealed that a third of child domestic workers had their genitals touched by employers, and that 20 percent had been forced into intercourse. Worldwide, six and a half million children aged between five and 14 years are working as child labourers, out of which 71 percent are girls.
"The situation of many child domestic workers not only constitutes a serious violation of child rights, but remains an obstacle to the achievement of many national and international development objectives," said Constance Thomas, Director of the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)
On World Day Against Child Labour, the ILO focused on the plight of domestic child labourers. As a domestic helper these children are expected to carry out tasks such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, looking after other children and caring for the elderly.
Preliminary results from the multi-country study (including India) on the impact of child domestic work has found that while many child labourers, particularly in middle income countries, manage to combine their work with some school attendance, these children don't perform as well as non-working children at school.
These children have higher drop-out rates, poorer perception of their own achievement and are more likely to have to repeat school years. It was also found that they are more likely to suffer from poor psychosocial health and low self-esteem.
In India, the dropout rate is as high as 27 percent at the primary level and 41 percent at the elementary level, reported The Hindu.
"Domestic workers of all ages are increasingly performing a vital task in many economies. We need to ensure a new respect for their rights and to empower domestic workers and their representative organisations. An essential aspect of this new approach involves tackling child labour," said Thomas.
UNICEF India estimates that child workers make up for 13 percent of the workforce in India. They mostly come from minorities, scheduled castes and tribes.
The harsh conditions endured by millions of children globally, mostly girls under 18, are deprived of education and are vulnerable to exploitation.
The report calls for joint and firm actions from the international community to eliminate child labour in domestic work. In addition to seeing education as a tool for advancement, a 2008 study in India indicates that education is a key factor in protecting these children "because it denotes the support of their parents, community and teachers and allows them to participate, grow and have aspirations."
"We need a robust legal framework to clearly identify, prevent and eliminate child labour in domestic work, and to provide decent working conditions to adolescents when they can legally work," Thomas stressed.
India is yet to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) concerning decent work for domestic workers.
The ILO has been observing 12 June as World Day Against Child Labour since 2002 with the intent to "serve as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labour, reflected in the huge number of ratifications of ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour and ILO Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for employment."