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Morocco: Child Labor Under the Spotlight

Zineb Chtit in hospital

Zineb Chtit in hospital

A young girl is suffering in a hospital, bruised and beaten. Sent to work as a domestic servant at the age of 10, Zineb Chtit knew no other life than the one she had, working for affluent employers who beat her and refused her food.  As A Moroccan About the World Around Him described her injuries in a recent post:

Zainab looked emaciated. Her body was bruised and bleeding from beatings. She was branded on her lips with a red-hot iron. She was burned with boiling oil on her chest and private areas. She was illiterate. She never experienced the joy of playing with friends. Her future was decided for her: trudge around the mill till the day she dies. And a few days ago, she almost did.

Unfortunately, Zineb's story is far from unique.  Morocco has 177,000 child workers under 15 years of age, 66,000 of whom work as domestic servants.  And although Morocco is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, its minimum working age remains at 12, with minimal restrictions in place.  Numerous reports as to the mistreatment of domestic servants have been made, such as this one by Tingis editor Anouar Majid.  And yet, driven by poverty, families continue to sell their daughters to the highest bidder, to work as servants, sometimes around the clock.  Blogger Sarah Alaoui tells of the plight of most young maids:

These poverty-stricken, uneducated women come from villages on the outskirts of Moroccan cities and have no choice but to provide for their families and children by taking jobs as maids for the country’s most ostentatious citizens. The stigma of poverty they are branded with at birth is further emphasized by this symbolic occupation—maids are to be seen and not heard. They work behind-the-scenes—similar to the house elves in J.K. Rowling’s famous wizarding series.

There are many families in Morocco who attempt to provide a home and not just a workplace for their maids. My grandmother has always made sure her maids’ children received an education alongside her own children and grandchildren—during the time her mother worked in my grandmother’s house, Naima went to the same school as my cousin. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that most people in the country do not provide the same earnest care to their maids.

A report [FR] in La Vie éco states that both the husband and wife who had employed Zineb will be charged with a crime, but as blogger Reda Chraibi suggests, more change must occur, and soon.  In a detailed post [FR], the blogger offers a proposal to prevent families from sending their young girls to work.  A piece of the proposal:

Accorder des aides sociales aux familles les plus pauvres afin qu’elles ne soient pas contraintes de faire travailler les enfants au lieu des le envoyer à l’école. La scolarité pour cette catégorie de la société devrait être totalement gratuite tant pour l’enseignement que pour l’équipement scolaire. A ce propos, l’opération de distribution de cartables équipés est une bonne initiative qui devrait être étendue dans tout le Royaume.

Donner à l’Association « Touche pas à mon enfant » (touche pas à mes enfants) ou à une institution publique le droit de recenser et de contrôler le travail des enfants servantes, le droit d’entrer dans les maisons pour discuter avec elles et vérifier si elles sont traitées dignement. Encourager leur éducation et leur alphabétisation. Ouvrir et faire connaitre un centre d’accueil pour les enfants servantes qui veulent fuir d’urgence le foyer dans lequel elles travaillent, afin que plus aucune Zineb Chtet n’èrre dans la rue dans le sang en demandant l’aide d’inconnus…

Grant social aid for the poorest families so that they are not forced to send children to work instead of sending them to school. The tuition for this class of society should be completely free, both for teaching and for school equipment.  In this regard, the operation to distribute schoolbags equipped with supplies [FR] is a good initiative that should be extended throughout the Kingdom.Give an association like “Touche pas à mon enfant” (Hands off My Children) or a public agency the right to identify and monitor the work of child servants, the right to enter homes to have discussions with them and check if they are treated with dignity. Encourage their education and literacy.  Open and make known a shelter for children who work as maids to flee the urgent conditions in which they work, so that no more Zineb Chtets are bloody and on the street seeking help from strangers….

A Moroccan About the World Around Him concludes his post with a quote:

I am reminded of a speech Mr. Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel gave at the White House in 1999 “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

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