The Housemaid Saga – Questions For Madam

In Nigeria, there is a form of child labour that is quite common and accepted, and that is employing children to be housemaids. This situation stems from poverty. For several socio-cultural or economic reasons, many parents do not plan their families and end up having too many children to take care of. This causes them…

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In Nigeria, there is a form of child labour that is quite common and accepted, and that is employing children to be housemaids. This situation stems from poverty. For several socio-cultural or economic reasons, many parents do not plan their families and end up having too many children to take care of. This causes them to give out their children to work for others as housemaids. This is also what gives rise to child beggars and child hawkers. But that is a story for another day.

Anyway, in this case, females are mostly the victims and get to live under some pretty harsh conditions. So in light of this, I have just a few questions for Madam. Yes, you who has underage housemaids.

Question 1: Madam, why won’t she break the plate?

She is a child. You hired her to do everything that you do not want to do. Why is it surprising that she broke a plate? Or spilled water on the floor? Or dropped food? Or burnt your clothes while ironing? Or slept for too long?

Any child under normal circumstances is bound to make mistakes. That’s why they are children. Now imagine a child who has to work all the time and has no time to play. Whenever, she is slow, you scream at her to hurry up. If you call her once, and she doesn’t hear you, you call her names and ask if she is deaf. She is extremely scared of you because she knows any mistake on her part will carry with it consequences. This fear is bound to make her clumsier. Obviously, a child under such circumstances will burn your food.

It really is not that surprising. Do you need to curse and beat her like she is a devil?

Please, Madam, stop shouting and deafening our ears about how your 9 year old housemaid broke your expensive china.

She is a terrified child. It was bound to happen.

Question 2: Madam, why won’t she fail in school?

Some of you, actually feel justified because you get to send your housemaids to school. But then she doesn’t have time to study, because she has so much to do. When she goes to school, she cannot concentrate because she is tired, physically, mentally or both. When she comes back from school, she can’t do her assignments or read because she has work to do. When she has exams, she definitely does not get work leave, so she can read. God forbid, you help her with her assignments or provide extra lessons for her. Of course, her academic performance will be below average.

It’s really not that surprising. Did you really expect her to pass?

Can you kindly stop shouting and deafening our ears about how your housemaid is wasting the school fees you manage to pay. We all know she goes to a public school anyway, so, you aren’t really paying that much.

She is an overworked child. It was bound to happen.

Question 3: Madam, why won’t she get pregnant?

Let’s assume she wasn’t raped. She is a teenager, who is dealing with hormones, puberty and self-discovery. The only time she leaves the house is to go to school (for the “lucky” few) or run an errand for you. She feels lonely at home because she doesn’t get that familial love and attention that she needs. After every mistake, you call her an idiot, ask her who she thinks she is and threaten to send her back home. You call her names or beat her at every opportunity.

One day when she goes to buy tomatoes for you, a man tells her she is beautiful. He gives her little money and tells her he loves her. After a while, he demands for sex. Do you really think that girl will refuse, especially when you gave her no sex education whatsoever? I’m not talking about the use of threats to kill her if she dares get pregnant. I am talking about proper sex education.

This guy is giving her the attention she so desperately craves. He is giving her that “love” that she is scared to lose.

Of course she will do what she can to hold on to him. It is really not that surprising.

Why are you shouting and deafening our ears about how your house girl is a prostitute just because she got pregnant?

She is an unloved, and vulnerable teenager. It was bound to happen.

Bottom line:

I know as long as there is poverty, people will continue to give out their children to work as housemaids. They will remain clueless about how their children are treated because they are in the villages and hence, so far away.

For those of you who have children as housemaids, treat them right. Do not abuse that position of power you have. Do not beat them or call them useless. Show them love. Help them achieve their dreams. Since, they work for you, they are your responsibility and should work under the best conditions. If you know you have the inability to love anyone that is not your child, then do not employ a child to be your housemaid.

Employ an adult instead. By doing that, you get to save our ears from going deaf because of all the shouting and screaming that you do. And you get to do things the right way, the legal way.

Because, child labour is child abuse and a crime. Let’s stop being criminals, okay? And if you want to be one, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you at least be fair, right?

NB: This post also applies to people who take their relatives’ children to live with them and turn them to housemaids. It’s the same thing, really.

Photo Credit: THEDAILYVOX

Responses

  1. Andronicus
    This is so true. Every word of it.
    I am particularly against the housemaid concept especially when it involves little boys or girls.

    As a kid, we had them. They showed us ‘pepper’. At this time they were older than us kids but less than 18. I think 12/13. When my mom beats her, she’ll give us the ‘I’ll beat you sign’ all Nigerian kids know behind my mom’s back. Once she promised us coconut candy and imagine my terror when I realised she wrapped a dead rat in newspaper and gave us. Or they’d lock us in the dark store (Festac block of flats store) which had roaches and stuff.

    Then mom brought a houseboy my age or slightly older. I was so saucy I hated sitting beside him in the car or in church. We always fought. Then there was the maid too brought to care for my baby brother.

    Years later, pondering over these domestic help, I realized how lonely, sad and left out they were. I’d see old pics or watch similar families where the maid dressed less glamorously than the kids. She/he would sit apart from them in church. I felt ashamed and hated it. Such a sad lonely life, and they are kids!

    I don’t want to have a help. I’d rather do the work myself or get a housekeeper who’ll work 9-5 in my house. It can be a lonely life for even the adults if they are live-in maids because they can’t go out or receive visitors. Can’t even watch tv with the rest of the family.

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    1. CandidHassey
      A hot mug of honey and line green tea for you as a first commenter. Thanks for commenting and sharing that story. It’s actually really sad. But that’s the past. We need to start changing things ourselves. And you are so right. It doesn’t matter how old the live-in housemaid is. It is a lonely life and not good for anyone.
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      1. Andronicus
        Security. Depends on where the family lives. In some estates, security is tight and those coming in are scrutinized and let in upon permission from the house owners. I don’t foresee these people allowing the maid to receive guests (Where will they go, her room? Security!) unless it was prearranged. Using my parents’ house as an example. They provided a Tv in the maid’s room and she’s allowed to watch tv with my mother but she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so.
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      2. Andronicus
        Mother told me that letting them go out too much could expose them to ‘bad gang’ who could influence them to steal. The last maid she had left her employment and shacked up with a guy who works at a nearby construction site. She’s expecting a baby for him. Must have met during errands to the supermarket. So she left a nice ensuite room with Tv, clean water, 24/7 light and excess food for some guy living in a one room shack….she gave security instructions not to let her anywhere in the estate. Anyway she’s very wary of negative outside influence that’s why. Many layabouts are looking for access into the estate to steal and many maids are the perfect ruse.
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  2. Jeanne
    Most of these children live lonely, sad lives and it affects some of them even as adults. I mean, what do you expect from someone who had a messed up childhood?
    That’s not all. I’ve heard stories of little girls, sexually abused by their ‘ogas’ or even madam’s sons, and they are threatened not to breathe a word.
    Then, some of them, take their frustrations out on their employees’ children. Abuse them and subject them to better imagined horrors.
    I made up my mind long ago, that I’d never bring in someone to leave with me. An elderly person who would work weekends, or mornings and leave same day, should be enough.
    Not like I can’t take care of someone else’s child, but the horrible stories associated with having live in helps, is something I never want to experience.
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    1. CandidHassey
      Exactly. Sometimes, I understand the actions of some of the housemaids. It’s not justifiable, but understandable. Some of them have faced such harsh conditions that they fight back, albeit in the wrong way. Its lime that with every suppressed group. When a group of individuals are horribly suppressed, the day they decide to fight back, some of them end up overdoing it.
      Thanks for commenting.
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  3. Toni
    I grew up without having ‘housemaids’ in my parents’ house per se, though the occasional relative stayed with us sometimes. What I’ve seen my parents do is take other people’s kids and treat them like theirs to the point that I have ‘brothers and sisters’ who aren’t even actual family members. Many outsiders thought some of the people my parents raised with us like their kids were my siblings when in actual fact they aren’t. Point is, my parents have no natural disposition to treat other people’s kids living with them as their own, yet they do. Thinking of this reminds me of a quote: “to be a hero today, one has to merely live like a decent human being.”

    Think of this, if it were your child in someone else’s house, would you be happy if they were treated the way you’re treating the child in your house?

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    1. CandidHassey
      So tru. Many of the parents have no choice but to send their children to live as housemaids. So one should treat them right. Thanks for commenting and asking that very important information.
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  4. Buchi
    Thank you for this post. Here’s hoping some people listen.
    My mum was known as ‘Mama Lucy’ around my neighbourhood when I was growing up. I don’t have a sister. Lucy is my cousin who came to live with us from when my eldest bro was born. Actually the second female to do so as at then. She’s a couple of years older and people simply assumed she was my Eldest sister and My mum’s first born.

    Funny story. I passed my first Jamb same time as my two elder brothers and the cousin in question. My Parents couldn’t afford to send all four of us to school same time. So guess who had to stay back? Yep. Yours truly. And I never saw any weirdness in it at that time. Neither did my brothers nor my cousin. It was just another family decision taken on the basis of age.

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  5. MissC
    We never had a help at my dads. We had relatives but never house helps. And my dad made sure we called our driver uncle. My mum on the other hand had a help when she had my younger brother, she put her through school to uni l and gave her out in marriage everyone who knew us on the outside believed she’s my mums younger sister cos we all call her Aunty and treated her with much respect. And I’ve learned to respect people whoever they are. If you
    Yay have a help, treat them with respect because they’re the true home makers and not you. They can either make or break your home and children
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  6. Sassy Bahristah
    Really sad tho. Rather heartbreaking but true. Most of these women take out their life’s frustrations on these poor kids. But it will continue to happen cos people still giving birth to too many kids in the villages. **sigh
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  7. Jaunty
    Yeah… Absolutely true… espcially the sex education part, they dont get educated at all and hence, they fall into temptation.
    Nice One!

    Posted from TNC Mobile

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  8. HERA
    We once had a maid,I was really little then and my brother was just born. Honestly that experience scared my mum so much 18 years after that my mum never brought in strangers to the house in the name of house helps. Instead I had older cousins living with us. And bless my mum, when my older sister and cousin didn’t get admitted to any federal school, they both attended private unis and so I always wonder if why people don’t treat their “maids” properly, especially those with young kids. For example if your maid doesn’t speak proper english, her grammar would rub off on your kids. My sister’s neighbour had a maid (around Ogba) and the girl walks to school at Ojodu and she leaves the house around 9! And she’s expected to be back before the children get back from school (mind you they have a school bus and they close around 1). Sorry for the long post but this issue really annoys me!!
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    1. CandidHassey
      Wow, thats really sad. Please you are free to write as long a comment as tou want. Lol.
      If you can’t treat someone living with you well, then don’t bring them in. And you are right, they can influence your kids, so for that sake, they should be sent to school.
      Thanks for commenting.
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  9. Exclusive
    This is an important issue. Thank you for bringing it up.

    I have been witness to both sides of the coin. I have seen one where the madam feels justified to pour hot pap on the relative living with her for one reason or the other and I have seen another where only family and close friends even knew he was a maid.

    In the end, it’s an individual thing that escalates to become a societal nightmare. We all just need to keep at the fore of our minds the fact that we didn’t choose where and who we were born to. Neither did these people who ended up on the other side of the tracks.

    It’s humbling to think that it could easily have been any of us.

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  10. Abi Sanni
    LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! We have a long way to go with child abuse and I think we should just hire adults to do the work. However, with the rate of poverty and illiteracy, some parents cannot afford to take care of the many children they have and believe you are helping them by taking them in. In some ways, you might be.

    But we need to learn to be kinder and more compassionate when dealing with the help. Especially when they are children. It’s so sad what the kids have to go through. Some of the madams will even claim that they are witches or that this young teenage kid wants to steal their husband.

    we def need to be more compassionate. Thanks for this post. xx

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