Domestic Workers:

Domestic workers are those workers employed for household chores like cooking. Cleaning (dusting, sweeping and mopping the house) washing (Clothes and or utensils) Ironing, marketing, running errands, child care and care of the aged or disabled, serving the snacks, making the beds, cutting the vegetables, grinding spices, and Ironing the clothes, dusting furniture, cleaning lice, body massage, filling water containers, looking after dogs, cats, birds and fish, marketing and running errands, etc.
what is shocking is all the above work is not considered as work?
They are called servents not even workers & they are paid Rs.150/- to 2000/- that is ($ 3 to $ 12) for month.
They are paid a pittance and are exhausted with work, and their men will not help them, So the Domestic workers have to start “Work” again back at home. Domestic service has become more “feminized” these days in a patriarchal society, Chores like cooking, washing have always been left to the women of the house. Domestic workers are poorly paid, under paid and discriminated. As there is no law applicable to domestic workers, the employers can hire, fire and treat them as they please.

According to the report of the National Commission in the informal Sector "of all the Services in India this is the most unrecognized and disorganized, and often the most denigrating and humiliating. These workers do the most menial arduous tasks have impossible long hours with no benefits of Social security, Security of employment, wage raises, paid leave or medical facilities". Domestic workers are most vulnerable and exploited groups of unorganized workers, Domestic work is a modern form of slavery hidden silenced in private home.


According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Domestic work is the single largest employment category for girls under the age of 16 in the world. In India, no comprehensive date exists on the size of domestic service, who employees domestic workers and under what conditions.

In order to understand the phenomenon of domestic workers, we need to place it in the sociological context of pull and push factors or the demand and supply factors. Today we are witnessing the effects of globalization all over the world. Globalization is leading to profit driven economies that thrive on cheap, docile labour, especially that of women, and societies that stress consumerism and competition. Trade liberalization which is an integral part of globalization is destroying native industries and causing widespread unemployment and poverty. This leads to large numbers of people being pushed out of their sources of livelihood , be they agricultural or others wise. Many of these are women who have little or no education and are therefore perceived as having no special skills other than their ‘inborn’ aptitude for housework and childcare. Thus they are absorbed into the ever increasing demand for domestic workers.

The middle class women’s load of house work is inversely correlated with incidence of poor women working as domestic workers. Domestic work is therefore a “sector of ultra exploited wage labor as well as a sector of strenuous use value production in the absences of better employment.”


Domestic workers are much sought after in urban metropolitan areas. Because of sociological changes families today are becoming nuclear. With increasing awareness about gender justice, and greater access to education, more women are being educated. There exists a corresponding need, both as an economic necessity as well as a career choice, for educated women to be active participants in the mainstream of economic life. This leads to an increasing reliance on domestic labor to resolve the problems of household maintenance, care of the young, the old, and the sick. While the average middle class household might not be able to afford full time to help, part time help now exists as a virtual necessity.


Corresponding to the urbanized need for domestic workers, is the growing poverty, indebtedness and unemployment in the rural areas. Rising indebtedness among landless peasants, sharecroppers, tenant families, add to the streams of migrants from the rural areas to the cities of India. Thus most domestic workers are migrant workers who have moved from rural areas to the cities in search of a livelihood to support their families back home. At the same time much of the metropolitan needs for domestic workers is sought to be satisfied by recruiting migrants from the rural areas.

For most of these workers, there is no choice instead as victims of unemployment and abject poverty in their communities they are forced into any kind of employment, as it is the only perceived way out of the poverty trap. Women, as a result of traditional & cultural experience, are perceived to be submissive, non-confrontational, uncomplaining, loyal, hardworking, skilled in cooking, home management and childcare.


Domestic Workers are one of the most exploited groups of unorganized workers. Since there are no specific laws relating to them employees can hire & fire as they please. Therefore domestic workers remains victims of unmitigated in justice are totally powerless and voiceless and treated as objects and non- persons. AS HUMAN BEINGS AND PERSONS Uprooted ness

A great number of domestic workers come from or are recruited from villages or tribal areas. Whether they live as full time workers in the houses of their employers, or as part time help where in they live with their own families, setting down in slums or squatting on pavements, they suffer the handicap of having to adapt to an environment and culture totally alien (especially in the cases of the tribal) from that of their origins. They also have the disadvantages of having to cope with being uprooted from their accustomed food, traditions and languages.


As a result of the nature of their work (they work alone in a house most of the time) and the seclusion of their workplace domestic workers suffer from a high degree of loneliness. This is compounded by the fact that the majority has not or limited time off and because of their basic illiteracy, are unable to write and communicate with their family who live far away. Many of the full time workers are not allowed to use the telephone or even go out to get in touch with friends or relatives who are in the same city. Having to live in an alien environment, speak an alien language and get used to alien eating habits without a support network of friends to help. This often leads to a dislocation of their personalities and causes many to suffer coping or adjustment problems.

Those who do adjust and live in the city for some time often suffer a reverse alienation in that they cannot reintegrate into their original rural or tribal way of life. Thus any possibility of a good future is denied to them. For many young girls their future chance of marriage are affected by the stigma of their work and their stay in the cities.


Domestic workers have no job security. Since supply outstrips demand they are liabel to be hired or fired at the whims of the employers. As women or even young girls resident within the employers household, the full time workers are also insecure with regard to their personal safety. They are constantly vulnerable to verbal, physical and sometimes even sexual harassment or abuse from the members of the house hold and have no where to go to if they face abuse in their employer’s homes.

The part time workers on the other hand, due to the nature of their housing in slums or on the pavement, are vulnerable to continuous harassment from official and unofficial agencies and are constantly in fear of eviction or demolition. The women workers who work to support their families (others with unemployed or laid – off husbands) face the daily trauma of violence and abuse at the hand of alcoholic husbands.


Domestic Workers are nameless and voiceless. Legally they are not even accepted as workers and are conveniently called. ‘Servants’ Maids’ bias’ or ayahs. Neither are they addressed by their names. Their work is normally considered as non work and their jobs are stigmatized as low, dirty and menial. They are treated as non- persons with no identity and needs of their own. Unquestioning subservience and obedience are demanded by their employers. They are often denied participation in normal social and cultural life, contact with outsiders by phone or directly in the case of full timers is more often than not restricted. Sadly all this some up that domestic workers are denied their very dignity as human being and worker.

As Workers

In the absence of a contract, domestic workers suffer various forms of exploitation in their places of work.
Hours of Work
Working hours for fulltime workers range from 8 to 18 hours a day. For many living in the same house as the employers means being at their beck and call at all hours of the day or night. This is especially so in families that have small babies, invalids or elderly people.
The part time workers, who works in a number of household besides managing her own home is on the move for a major part of the day.


A majority of full time workers receive no day off. Some especially those who are part of the Movement, receive either one or half a day off a week. While those associated with the Movement get one month’s paid leave every year. Others would either get some leave once in two years or no leave benefits at all.

Almost all part time workers work seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Taking any leave to attend to emergencies or other matters, celebrate festivals or family occasion, is resented by employers and often wage fare deducted as deterrents to future leave taking.


For full time domestic workers wages range from as low as Rs. 150/- to Rs. 2000/- a month. Factors like location of employers’ house, contact of the workers with the Movement, previous experience, accessibility to information about worker’s rights determine the worker’s place in this wages range. For a significant number the wages promised are never received in hand regularly. This is because employers claim that “Being ignorant they will not know how to manage their money and so will waste it” As a result they either receive the money when they go on home leave or else the employers themselves retain it because “Domestic Workers must save something for themselves and not give everything to their families”. In the end the domestic workers ends up the loser not only are they denied the rights to decide how to spend their own money, earned by hard work, but they are deprived of all the interest they could have accumulated had they saved the money in a bank. Part time workers charge per job they do, i.e washing clothes, vessels, sweeping, swabbing and dusting, washing bathrooms, cooking etc. This too varies according to the areas of the employer as well as the area of origin of the workers. However part time workers would earn anything from Rs. 400-500 per house in Mumbai and work in 3-4 houses per day if not more.


The absence of a contract makes the workers both full time and part time vulnerable to arbitrary terminations based on the whims of the employers. In many cases workers are prevented from exercising her right to terminate an unpleasant abusive and or exploitative employer as employers often consider hiring and firing solely their prerogative. Very rarely do employers give their domestic workers a month notice or months wages in lieu when they are terminated.

Medical benefits

Again this like all benefits is available on the whims of the employer. Even though medical care is their right domestic workers are very rarely provided with medication when they fall ill.

Living condition

Domestic workers carry with them the stigma of non persons involved in ‘non-work’ and consequently most of the time suffer inhuman living condition. The full time workers are expected to sleep in places ranging from underneath the stairway to the balcony (Where they are exposed to the vagaries of all seasons) some share room with the children or the family members. Their sleeping provision are often the bare minimum, inadequate during the hot season or the monsoon. As far as food in concerned a significant number have to accept left over and other inedible food.

Part timers who have to eke out an existence for themselves and their families on their earnings (in many instance with no support from their spouses). Often live in a chawl or hut exposed to the seasons and the demolition squad. In order to feed their families many domestic workers deny themselves basic nutrition. Some employers do provide their part time workers with a cup of tea, while others would give them some food, which more often than not, would be leftovers.


Domestic workers are expected to be non-questioning, subservient, obedient and non-confrontational. This despite that fact that many a time they are subjected to virulent and harsh verbal abuse often compounded by physical abuse, assault and harassment. They are hit, burnt, or pushed around. This is especially so in the case of child domestic workers. Some are also subjected to sexual harassment from male members of the family or neighbourhood. The isolation and loneliness which characterize the very nature of their employment situation make it impossible for many workers to approach anyone for help or assistance. Besides the shame associated with abuse and or harassment makes them suffer through it rather than complain.


Child domestic work is one of the most common and traditional form of child labor. The practice especially in the case of girls is very extensive as many cultures continue to view girls working in the household as an essential part of their up bringing. Families in urban areas often recruit children from rural villages through families, friends or contacts. These children hidden behind the closed doors of private house are the world’s most forgotten children. They remain the most vulnerable and exploited children of all yet their suffering and cry remains unseen and unheard.


Age: From the age of 6 years
Background: Migrants
Broken families
Appearance: Look much smaller than their age due to malnourishment
How they come: Parents
Recruiters (priest and nuns)
Kind of work: All the work
Cleaning, Washing, Cooking
Running errands,taking children to school
Looking after aged, babysitting
How long they work: They are the first to get up and the last to go to bed. They toil for more than 16 hours.
How much they earn: Many are given only food and accommodation the earning is sent to the parent or they are paid only when they get married.
How they are treated: Many complain that they are subjected to variable and physical abuse. There is a cut in their salary. They are the last to eat not allowed to socialize with others. Locked inside the house. Some do not know the language.


Child Domestic work is the least researched form of child exploitation. It is difficult to get the number of child domestic workers since it is hidden and behind closed doors. They are scattered and invisible. But the practice especially in the case of girls is very extensive.

In India very minimum information is available on child domestic workers. A survey conducted by National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development in Bombay in 1978 showed that 56 % of female child labourers were employed as domestic workers. The national survey on domestic workers conducted by CBCI commission of Justice, development and peace in eight cities showed that one sixth of domestic workers were children. According to 1971 census 25 % of working children in Delhi are employed as housemaids. A survey referred to the UNICEF report on the State of the World’s Children 1997 state that in India 17% of domestic workers were under 15 years old and that girls aged 12 to 15 were the preferred choice for 90% of employing households. A study conducted by Tamilnadu Slum clearance board Child labor in Chennai revealed that child domestic workers formed 12 percent of the Child labour population in Chennai.


While poverty may cited as the major reason for children taking up domestic work, it is not the only reason, the tradition, culture and attitude play a major role. Parents prefer to place their children in domestic work because they perceive it as light and less arduous task than other employment opportunities available. It is a task which does not require any formal training or special skills. Their children can live in a better house and get food etc.

The demand for domestic workers is on the increase with urbanization and breaking up of the joint family system with more and more women taking up job outside the house, the need to have a helper at home to assist in the household chores is on the increase. Employers prefer to have children since they find them a perfect substitute for adult domestic workers. For the same amount of work they can be paid less than the adults. They are perceived to be easier to be managed which means they are obedient and can be easily trained to conform to the requirement of the employers. They are more submissive and hardworking. They also give company for employer’s child.

The Society’s attitude towards girl child looking on her as a burden is another reason why girls enter domestic work.


The problem experienced by the child domestic workers is completely different from that of other child workers.

? Being uprooted from their own families they are transplanted and expected to meet the demands of the employers.
? Work for long hours with low remuneration.
? No time to take rest or play.
? With no connection with their families they remain isolated.
? They suffer physical abuse.
? Their psychology and self perception get distorted.
? Suffer sexual harassment.
? Deprived of schooling, play, social security, social activity & childhood.


Children are endowed with all human rights as set down in the 1948 Universal declaration on human rights and all humans rights standards developed since. The Convention of the Right of the child is the first legally binding instrument to elaborate human rights specially and uniquely for children. It is also one of the most comprehensive instruments in the human rights law. The rights contained in CRC range from the child’s most basic subsistence need (such as food, shelter and access to health care) to other fundamental things that children need to develop their fullest potential (such as the right to education, freedom of thought and religion). The convention also include the right to the protection from abuse, exploitation and neglect and the right to participate in one’s community and in the political life. The rights enshrined in CRC may be broadly classified right to survival, right to protection, right to development and right to participation.

The constitution on India both in the directive principles of state policy and as a part of the fundamental Rights has laid down that the state shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers men women and children of tender age are not abused and that citizens are not forced by strength and that children particularly are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and on conditions of freedom and dignity. Childhood and youth are to be protected against exploitation and that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed in any factory or mines or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

The international labour organization has identified Child Domestic work as an extreme form of Child labor which needs immediate assistance. Though there are many conventions, constitutional provisions, legislations to protect children and to provide opportunities for education they are not put into reality. The economic policy of the Government and its development perspective is more and more marginalizing children especially the girl child. The export oriented economy is depriving the rural people of their land holdings and they are drawn to the cities increasing the rate of urbanization. On the other hand with more women taking up work in the formal and informal sector the need for a helping hand preferably a child is on the increase in the urban areas. This leads to more and more children joining the band of child domestic workers.

As a group working towards the empowerment of Domestic workers we need to face the a challenge of elimination child domestic work. As pointed by Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen it is not economic poverty but rather political poverty that is depriving children their rights to education and pushing them to labour force. Our actions should aim at attacking this political poverty to bring education to the reach of children and free child domestic workers from the bondage. Mr. Javier perez de Cuellar, former Secretary General of UN remarked "the way a society treats its children reflects not only its qualities of compassion and protective caring but also its sense of justice, its commitment to the future and its urge to enhance the human conditions for coming generations". If we are working towards justice it is essential that we treated our children with respect and work towards enabling the children to enjoy their rights and childhood.

References :

UNICEF : the state of the World’s children 1997
Child workers in Asia Behind closed doors- Child domestic workers
R.N. Pati Rehabilitations of child laborers in India
ILO Child labour – targeting the intolerable
Background paper for the Regional Consultation on Child Domestic workers in Asia.
19-23 November 1997. “The Phenomenon of Child Domestic work in Asia’ prepared by the organizing committee.
DOMESTIC WORKERS : A Modern day manifestation of slavery by Raynah Bragana passanha Bharati Pflug Jean Saldanha
Published by Domestic workers’ Movement
The India Cente for human rights and Law.