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.”


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.