Morocco’s child maids suffer like ‘slaves’

Former Moroccan underage maid Fatima, 17, inside a house in Rabat. There are no official figures on Morocco’s “petites bonnes,” but according to a study commissioned in 2010 by several associations, there were then in Morocco between 66,000 and 80,000 domestic workers under 15 years old. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2018

Morocco’s child maids suffer like ‘slaves’

  • Morocco had between 66,000 and 80,000 domestic workers aged under 15
  • For Fatima, work begins at 7:00 am and ends late into the night, ‘sometimes 3:00 am’

RABAT: “Even a pet animal is better treated,” sobs 17-year-old Fatima, one of thousands of young girls exploited and too often abused while working as housemaids for unscrupulous employers in Morocco.
She has managed to get to the Annajda help center for battered women in the capital, Rabat.
“I only wanted to help my parents, my family was living in destitution,” murmurs the teenager, who has worked as a household servant for two years.
For the volunteers who offer support, such stories are commonplace despite recent legislation to protect minors from servitude.
Fatima’s parents agreed to let her leave their southern village at the age of 15 to work as a domestic, with the aid of a local intermediary, or “semsar.”
A place was found and she was sent to work with a family in Rabat.
“At first, I was well-treated,” she said. “But gradually, violence became my daily life.
“The mistress used to beat me, insult me, she always had a reason.”
Fatima El Maghnaoui, who runs the Annajda shelter, talks of slavery and says teenage Fatima should be at school.
“It’s a form of slavery, a violation of the right to education and of Morocco’s international commitments,” she said.
There are no official figures on the employment of maids.
But a study carried out in 2010 by non-governmental bodies reported that Morocco had between 66,000 and 80,000 domestic workers aged under 15.
INSAF, an NGO which has campaigned for women’s rights for nearly 20 years, lists “degrading working and living conditions” suffered by the girls, who are usually from the country and illiterate.
Latifa’s story caught public attention recently after the 22-year-old was taken to hospital in Casablanca with third-degree burns and broken bones. She had been a maid since adolescence and long abused by her employer.
INSAF has helped her find shelter.
For Fatima, work began at 7:00 am and ended late into the night, “sometimes 3:00 am,” she says.
“I used to sleep on the terrace in the cold, like a domestic animal.
“I used to eat the scraps and my feet always ached from standing up.”
She was not even paid.
“A salary of 800 dirhams a month (nearly 70 euros, around $85, or a third of the minimum wage) was agreed, but I didn’t get a penny,” she adds.
After the first year she asked for what she was owed, only for the mistress of the house to confiscate her identity papers and forbid any contact with her family.
Caught in a trap, Fatima decided to run away.
“I didn’t know anyone, I had no money and did not even know the address where I was working,” she says.
In the end, a young man who lived nearby helped her get in touch with an aunt and “bring the ordeal to a close.”
Omar Saadoun, who heads INSAF’s program against child labor, says that the fate of maids, such as Fatima, starts with “failure at school in rural settings, poverty and parental ignorance.”
In some areas, “girls are considered inferior to boys and are the first in line to be married off or sent to work as a servant when extra money is needed,” he said.
Long awaited amid years of debate, legislation to protect maids was passed in the summer of 2016. It sets a minimum age of 18 for household work.
The law covers labor contracts, a minimum wage, one day off a week, annual holidays and financial penalties for failure to abide by the rules.
Government has hailed the law as major social progress.
However, it allows another five years for the employment of 16-18 year-olds, much to the annoyance of human rights activists, and there has been little or no assessment of implementation.
“We need a global strategy... the legislation does not bring any guarantees, there is no system for support, rehabilitation, to identify families,” says Saadoun.
“Many maids who are minors do not even know the address of their employer.”
And, noted El Maghnaoui, “work inspectors are not authorized to investigate inside households where abuse can take place far from prying eyes.”
Despite the new legislation, non-government agencies such as INSAF report that girls as young as eight or nine are still being taken on as servants.
After years of servitude, many still bear the scars.
Hayat, now 38, became a maid at the age of nine.
“When I think back today, 30 years after, it’s still just as painful,” she laments.
“I lost my childhood.
“My first employer mistreated me, gave me leftovers to eat. He constantly humiliated me.
“It was exhausting. I did not have the strength needed for housework.”
Today she’s a mother and does “everything to take care of my children so they do not live through the same thing.”


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”