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.”


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 31 min 33 sec ago

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”