Housemaids: How safe is your child?

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Vaidah Mashangwa
THE media is awash with stories of maids who kill, sexually or physically abuse or kidnap children they are supposed to care for and protect from any harm.

Some maids go to the extent of breastfeeding the baby to stop her or him from crying and this increases chances of HIV transmission if the maid is HIV positive. Most employers simply chase the maids without reporting them to the police. However, there is an abundance of literature to support these developments. How safe are children under such environments?

As if this is not enough, some maids go to the extent of snatching away the employer or simply sleep together each time the wife is away.

Others are perpetual thieves who steal anything from kitchen utensils to clothing. Others give away groceries to friends, relatives and neighbours while the employer is at work. The list is endless.

While all this is going on, parents are now stranded as they wonder who to trust their children with when they are away at work.

Each time there is a social gathering, be it at a funeral, club or church meeting women share horrible stories of their maids or share ideas on how to get the next maid.

One blood chilling incident is a video of a Ugandan maid that went viral on the social media.

The maid literally tortured the 18-month old baby who after refusing to eat, was slapped, thrown to the floor, beaten up, stepped on despite all her cries. In Cowdray Park too, a maid killed a baby after locking her in a headboard drawer for making noise as she watched a movie.

How can parents tell a good maid from an abusive one? There are also some employers who abuse their maids but that is not the focus today. It is unfortunate that there are parents who rarely bath, check on their children or spend time with them.

According to results of a study published in the Journal of Childhood Research, 58 percent of children under the age of three spend 30-70 hours a week with domestic workers. What is oblivious to the parents is the fact that it is at that early stage that the mental, physical and psychological development of a child takes place. Once the wrong messages and wrong behaviour is inculcated in the children, the damage is irreparable.

The overall development of a child rests with the parents. Parents have to ensure that children get the correct guidance from a tender age so that the child is moulded into a well-mannered individual who fits well into society later in life.

Normally when the maids start work they are obedient, innocent, trustworthy and hardworking. After a few months, some totally change their behaviour as they interact more and more with neighbours, friends and relatives.

The main reason why most working parents hire maids is that generally their salaries are not enough to pay for the day care facilities available. Most parents live from hand to mouth hence the prospect of sending children to day care centres is far-fetched. In some countries, the government construct day care centres at most work places so that parents easily monitor the children as well as making it easy to collect them after work.

According to psychologists, maids like everyone else, are not born evil but it is the experiences surrounding their upbringing that trigger bad habits especially as they relate with the children in their care.

It is important to ask as much as possible from the maid before hiring her. According to research her anger might emanate from the physical, emotional or even sexual abuse she experienced herself when she was growing up. The anger could have been bottled up over the years only to be unleashed on the innocent children. On the same vein, there is also a need to treat the maid well because mistreating her might influence her to mistreat your children.

Children who are abused and ill-treated exhibit changes in three main areas, namely behaviour, attitude and activity. Changes in behaviour include withdrawal, eating disorders, shying away from people and regressive behaviour.

In terms of attitude change, the child is scared, cries a lot, clings to the parent, develops nervousness, and becomes moody and withdrawn. In terms of activity, the child suddenly lacks interest in playing with other children and objects that she used to play with such as dolls and toys. The child suddenly stops playing games and sports. She may start playing with sharp objects as a way of expressing inward anger.

According to recorded experiences by police, most employers do not report their maids when they physically abuse children. Usually they punish them themselves and then dismiss them. Cases of sexual abuse including molest are the ones that are reported.

All cases of child abuse should be reported to the police because if not reported the same maid will continue to abuse children when she works for someone else. Mothers should also learn to bath their own babies as some may even have vaginal sores, discharge and bruises or burns.

However, due to poor parenting most parents leave everything in the care of the maid. At times the maid receives no training on how to care for young babies. There are mothers or wives who are generally lazy who make the maid do virtually everything. Some of the tasks assigned to the maid include making the main bed, washing and ironing dad’s clothes, including his underwear.

There are several ways that can be used to see if abuse is actually taking place. One effective way is to have someone install a hidden camera in the children’s bedroom, kitchen and sitting room. Secondly, parents can go back home unannounced from time to time. At times most maids are caught unaware and a lot can be discovered.

Before the maid arrives it is important to have a list of specific house rules. There is need for counselling and induction when the maid starts work.

Instructions too must be detailed and specific for example how to wash and rinse clothes. The underlying factor is how safe is your child when he/she is under the care of a maid?

About the writer: Vaidah Mashangwa is the Bulawayo Provincial Development Officer in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development. She can be contacted on 0772111592. Email-

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