Child labour

Under age, under protected and undervalued, the grim situation of Myanmar domestic workers

A large number of children and young girls work as domestic workers in Myanmar, excluded from legal protection, and stigmatized by society. Myanmar has been rocked in recent years by cases of extreme abuse, but discussions on how to improve their conditions and respond to their needs are just starting in the country.

Article | 11 May 2018
© Selim Benaissa / ILO
Yangon (ILO News) - Recognizing that there are many young girls working as domestic workers in Myanmar, and that this work is highly stigmatised and not protected, the ILO with the support of the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), organized a panel discussion on “Leaving no domestic worker behind: addressing child labour in Domestic Work”.

Currently, there is no regulation on the minimum age to become a domestic worker in Myanmar, and participants at the event found it difficult to agree on what that should be, with their idea of minimum age ranging from 14 to 20 years old.

From the panel, Selim Benaissa, Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO’s Myanmar Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (My-PEC) stressed that "according to international law (ILO Conventions No. 138 & 182), two cut-off age limits should be established for children’s work: (1) a minimum age for employment or work, which should not be lower than 15 years (exceptionally 14 years in developing countries like Myanmar); and (2) a list of hazardous work in which no one under 18 years of age should be employed in any circumstances".

"According to Myanmar Labour Laws (The Factory Act and Shop and Establishment Act), the minimum working age has been set at 14 years, but this is sector specific and doesn’t include domestic work. Myanmar is now developing a list of hazardous work list and the ILO recommends that domestic work is considered in the discussions in order to ensure that protection is provided to child domestic workers. These issues are linked with the new Child Law that is currently being considered by Parliament. The ILO also recommends that Myanmar ratify Convention 138 on the mimimum age and 189 on domestic work.", concluded Benaissa.

Htwe Htwe Thein, Director of Migrants, Child Labour and Domestic Work Department of CTUM proposed that the minimum age should be 18 years old because that is the age they can join trade unions. Thanda Kyaw, Child Protection Advisor at Save the Children International, supported this proposal pointing out the vulnerability of children to violence and sexual abuse and the risks young domestic workers are exposed to given the isolated nature of the work.

Participants, who included domestic workers, CSOs, legal aid groups and journalists, also raised the problem of how to monitor working conditions when the workplace of domestic workers is a private household and therefore entitled to privacy. The meeting agreed that if a household also becomes a place of employment, then some level of labour inspection should be allowed while other monitoring mechanisms, such as hotlines, registration of domestic workers at the ward and administration offices were also needed.

"In today’s society, while there are still many young women working as domestic workers it must be everyone´s duty to monitor how they are treated and to reach out to employers, domestic workers and their parents, to ensure their mental and physical well-being and to advocate for their decent working conditions", concluded Hkun Sa Mun Htoi, ILO’s National Migration Coordinator.

The meeting was organized by the ILO Developing International and Internal Labour Migration Governance (DIILM) project supported by the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT). The project works with government, social partners and civil society to develop polices on labour migration and domestic work through consultative processes and to build the capacity of all stakeholders for effective and fair implementation of the policies.