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.”


Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.