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Break the Chain Blog

Why Help Migrant Domestic Workers?

Because of their condition both as migrants and as women – a status sometimes characterized as ‘double marginalization’ – female migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and ill treatment. A Distinction between trafficked women and voluntary women migrants maybe difficult to make because both may end up in comparable situations of exploitation, violence and abuse.

Serious problems commonly faced by migrant domestic workers include debt bondage, passport retention, illegal confinement, rape and physical assault. Reports by non governmental organizations confirm that many women work without contracts, or – if contracts exist – that they are on unfavorable terms, are paid low salaries, have no insurance, no control over working hours, and that employers may forbid domestic workers to leave the house, in effect confining them for the period of the employment to the house or apartment building in which they work.

Additionally, problems which exist in a number of countries, affecting women who seek to contribute through their work to their families and home societies, but are prevented from doing so by systematic violations of their rights. Often, the domestic migrant worker is completely dependent on her sponsor, and hence vulnerable to exploitation, because the validity of her visa depends on her continued employment.

Some women are able to leave abusive employment. Many do not, and the reasons they give illustrate the helpless situation of many domestic migrant workers: a lack of alternative employment; ignorance of rights; financial obligations to family and the fact of their dependence on the worker’s income; lack of financial resources; fear of deportation; restrictions on movement; lack of identity papers; fear of arrest; fear of violence by agents/traffickers/employers; debt bondage; a fear of retaliation against the family if the debts are not paid; and a general fear of reprisals.

It must be recognized that the nature of domestic work gives rise to complex rights protection issues, since the unregulated nature of informal labor translates into minimal or no legal protection for migrant workers. In many countries, labor, safety and other laws do not cover domestic workers, so there are no legal norms for their treatment or offices or inspectors to enforce them. Even if they are protected by legislation, it can be very difficult for domestic workers to learn about or benefit from available protections, the result being widespread violations of labor laws.