Tanzania: “I Want People to See the Evil Done” – Former Child Slave Turned Activist

London — Angel Benedicto was a child domestic worker in Tanzania, slaving for 16 hours a day for just $9 a month, but after being overworked, underpaid and sexually harassed by her employers, she decided to take action.

“No one has an interest in helping domestic workers,” she said at an event in London, drying her eyes as she told more than a hundred lawyers, experts and NGO workers her tale. “Nobody cares.”

When Benedicto’s mother died when she was 16, her father tried to marry her off. She ran away to Mwanza in the north of Tanzania where she found work cleaning, fetching water and looking after her employer’s children.

“The job was back-breaking,” she said. A typical day meant rising at 5:30 a.m. and going to bed at 11:30 p.m.

After moving to a new domestic help job after summoning up the courage to leave her first, she was treated better and allowed to attend classes run by local charities.

But things took a turn for the worse when her new employer sexually harassed her. “By then I knew my rights and was confident enough to stand up to him, but it didn’t take long until he threw me out of the house,” she said.

 There are 53 million domestic workers in the world according to the ILO, many of them children. They commonly do not have adequate legal protection.

In many countries they are seen as informal “help”, exempt from regular employment laws, Benedicto said. “The worst thing was being treated like a second class human being.”

Together with fellow child domestic workers, she set up an organisation called WoteSawa, meaning “all equal” in English, which supports people in similar situations.

 In 2011 she went to Geneva to lobby the International Labour Organization (ILO) to adopt a convention on the rights of domestic workers. It passed, but has so far only been ratified by 16 countries, something Benedicto calls “shameful”.

Benedicto, now 27, hopes to rally support for the convention amongst deep-pocketed business leaders and well-connected lawyers. While in Britain she is also receiving an award for her work from Queen Elizabeth.

“I want the community to see what evil is done inside of our jobs,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that many domestic workers are exploited and even raped by employers.

The treatment of young people like Benedicto is shocking, said Angela Vigil of Baker & McKenzie, the law firm which organised the London event this week. “We’re giving them short change unless we do something about it.” Vigil wants companies like hers to find legal solutions to the problem.

“Still I have pain, it’s like a trauma,” Benedicto said. “I thank God that I’m free now, but I’m crying for other domestic workers who are still in the house.”

“There are many Angels,” she said.

To read Angel’s story in her own words, please click here.

(Reporting By Joseph D’Urso, Editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://www.trust.org)

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