Domestic Slavery

Domestic slavery is usually carried out during what is the seemingly normal practice of live-in help. This can act as a cover to enable exploitation or control of another. The person held in slavery is usually from another country. Although it appears as a form of forced slavery there are some aspects which separate it from other forms. It presents its own unique challenges.



It can be difficult to recognise those who are held in domestic slavery as on the outside it may appear to be regular employment; for example nannies or domestic helpers. It becomes slavery when a situation is such that a person is unable to leave by their own free will. People working in domestic situations often leave their place of employment. This can isolate them and make them more vulnerable to exploitation since inspection of domestic places of employment are not subject to inspection as in more formal employment.


Domestic slavery is, in effect, a form of bonded labour. Often a migrant worker will have been offered what appears to be good employment prospects only to find on arrival that their 'employer' restricts their freedom until the cost of their travel has been reimbursed. Their passports and other identity documents are held against this debt. Subsequently, charges for rent, food and the like takes the place of payment and the debt is never repaid. A migrant worker may have entered the country illegally or overstayed his visa and is afraid to go to the authorities especially if he does not understand the language of his new country.


In some situations, people are forced into marriage against their will. This is different from arranged marriages which are normal practice in some cultures. Children are often married purely for both sexual and domestic purposes. This, as with other forms of slavery, is an abuse of the persons human rights. Forced marriage can take the form of other kinds of enslavement, for example bonded labour or child slavery.


Haniya (name changed) lived in a community persecuted as a religious minority. Her family lived in humble conditions and neither the father nor the mother were able to find employment. This was difficult for the community as favour was always given to the majority religion. Haniya was just 8 years old when a local family gave her employment as a domestic worker. She earned little money for her family. One day she was alone with the master of the house who raped her. As a 'girl' and a 'slave' she had no legal protection and although reported to the authorities, the master of the house was never prosecuted.


Because of the nature of domestic slavery, statistics are difficult to obtain. By its description it is enforced in individual households and for some may never be discovered. Thankfully more and more cases are being reported and violators prosecuted but this is really just the tip of a very large iceberg. The International Labour Organisation has estimated a minimum of 52 million men and women who are domestic workers across the world and more than 7.5 million children who are under the age of 15. The number of women and girls far exceeds the number of men and boys and again the ILO suggests that there are more girls under the age of 16 in domestic slavery than any other form of child labour.