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The scourge of rural Madagascar: Child labour in domestic work

An ILO study in rural areas of Madagascar sheds light on the main causes leading to child labour

Feature | 30 March 2016
GENEVA (ILO News) – Ravaka is 14. Since the age of 12, she’s walked to work instead of school.

“I went to school for three years, until my mother died. My father didn’t have a steady job. So I left school to work in Anosizato, a village near Antananarivo, the capital. I cleaned. I peeled vegetables,” she recalls.

For two years, Ravaka worked for a derisory monthly wage of 3,000 ariary (or less than US$1.50). But she dreamed of going back to school. Fortunately for her, her dream finally came true and today she’s even planning to study medicine - thanks to an SOS Children’s Villages facility that takes in out-of-school children aged 12 to 17.

The facility receives financial support from the ILO operated International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in three rural regions of the country particularly affected (Amoron’i Mania, Analamanga and Vakinankatra).

“Madagascar has been firmly committed to eliminating child labour since 1997. It has had a national action plan since 2004, and this has led to a significant drop in the rate of child labour,” explains Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO Country Office in Madagascar.

“But the situation remains worrisome. In 2007, 28 per cent of Malagasy children between the ages of 5 and 17 were routinely engaged in some form of economic activity. The international economic crisis and the socio-political tensions experienced by the island have resulted in a deterioration,” he adds.

Obtaining reliable data

Reliable statistical data are crucial to fighting child labour more effectively. The ILO project, therefore, carried out a baseline study on child labour in the three regions covered (available in French, Etude de base sur le travail domestique des enfants).

The study highlights several persistent trends. For example, most of the children employed in domestic labour come from rural areas. The fact that they have dropped out of school is one of the leading factors behind such employment. The reasons most frequently cited for dropping out are lack of financial resources to pay school fees and the obligation to help their parents financially.

The study also shows that 44 per cent of child domestic workers in the three regions considered were aged between 10 and 12 when they were first hired. Their average wage – often paid to the parents – was 25,000 ariary (or 12.50 dollars). That is far below the minimum wage, which is 133,000 ariary.

Moreover, the children often finish working between 6 and 8 p.m., even later in 30 per cent of cases, depriving them of their right to recreation and to an education, and contrary to the Malagasy Labour Code.

Niry’s ordeal

The firsthand accounts collected by the study’s authors in the course of their survey were in some cases profoundly shocking. Take the case of Niry.

Niry was 15 and came from a large family. She was working as a servant for a local establishment family. Cut off from her family and forced to get up every day at 3 a.m., Niry wasn’t allowed to go to bed until around 11 p.m., after having done the laundry and washed the car, ironed, cleaned the house, prepared the meals and looked after the children.

One day, when Niry asked for her wages, which she hadn’t received for three months, her mistress got angry at her and set her clothes on fire. It was midnight when her boss threw her out, having noticed her burns. Niry didn’t know where to go and spent two hours wandering around before finally fainting. She was collected by community agents who sent her to a facility that enabled her to file suit and claim her rights.

“Niry’s story is extreme, but it is the reality often experienced by child domestic workers,” explains Lauréat Rasolofoniainarison, administrator of the project to combat child labour in the regions of Amoron’i Mania, Analamanga and Vakinankaratra (LCTE/AMAV) funded by ILO technical cooperation.

According to Mr. Rasolofoniainarison, thanks to the project, 564 children in child labour situations have been removed from domestic labour, including 125 (aged 12 to 15) who have benefitted from remedial classes enabling them to take part in the national tests to obtain the Certificat d’Etudes Primaires Elémentaires (CEPE, or basic elementary school certificate), the first official diploma.

In addition, 439 other children (aged 15 to 17) have received vocational training in various fields (as qualified household help, auto mechanics, industrial machinists, professional cleaners, electricians, plumbers, farmers and modern animal husbandry) before being reintegrated into society and the labour market. The project has also provided assistance to 136 parents of these children, with a view to improving their incomes.

The ILO in Madagascar also works to combat the sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes. Thus, at the beginning of 2016, thanks to a joint ILO and UNICEF programme, about 50 children on the tourist island of Nosy Be were taken off the streets and started vocational training in fields such as tourism, the hotel/restaurant business and entrepreneurship.