Moyna cannot sit at the table and eat with the rest of the household. She is the other — in the house, but not a member of the house. Her humanity is reduced to the work she does. Those people around her do not know who she is as a person. She functions in the background; keeps the household running. She is a six-year-old domestic worker in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
“I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at midnight,” she says. “My daily chores include sweeping and wiping the floors and stairs, doing the dishes and laundry, opening the main gate downstairs, switching on machines, a little bit of shopping, cleaning the toilet.”
In the morning, her workload is particularly heavy, Moyna tells a researcher with the Bangladesh-based Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society: “I help to prepare breakfast, and I eat two breads for myself in a hurry. The same situation arises during lunch and dinner time; I always eat last.”
Moyna has no father, and her mother remarried a man who beat her for no reason, which is why her grandmother sent her to Dhaka to work. She has never been to school. Her employer does not allow her to watch TV or talk to outsiders, and makes her wear worn-out clothes. She is slapped or verbally abused for small mishaps, and brutally beaten and locked up for up to 24 hours without food for what her employer considers more severe offences.
Moyna is one of hundreds of thousands of child domestic workers in the South Asian nation, and her story is far from unique. It could be from any other corner of the globe. Child labour in domestic work is a pandemic. The International Labour Organisation estimates that more than 17-million children around the world are involved in domestic work in a home other than their own. The vast majority of them are girls, and most are younger than 14 years. Employers often prefer young girls because they can be easily controlled.
Unlike the current Covid-19 pandemic, this pandemic is entirely human-made — and it is entirely up to us to eradicate it. One important reason why eradicating child domestic work is hard is that it is socially accepted in many countries. Sometimes it is even regarded as positive, and as preferable to other work. That is especially true in the case of girls, for whom domestic work is thought of as offering a protective family environment and a sort of apprenticeship for marriage.