Friday, June 15, 2007

Household Slavery

It was an all-too-common sight during my time in Guinea: often when I visited my neighbors, I'd be introduced to a young girl I had never seen at the school ironing clothes, making dinner, or sweeping the foyer. When I would ask the girl her name, she would inevitably smile shyly and turn away, not understanding my French. These girls, household servants, were not directly related to the family—they were confiées, given awat by poor families to richer ones in bizarre and complicated forms of exchange I never understood even after two years in the country.

Now, Human Rights Watch has recently released a new report on Guinea focusing on this long-standing injurious practice: the wide-spread abuse of adolescent girls in the form of household help. The report, impressive in tackling a rarely talked about issue of West African culture, is available for download here. The report includes short accounts from the victims of this servitude-bordering-on-slavery. Here's an excerpt:
Sometimes my employers beat me or insult me. When I say I am tried or sick, they beat me with a whip. When I do something wrong, they beat me too.… When I take a rest, I get beaten or am given less food. I am beaten on my buttocks and on my back. —Rosalie Y., age 9
The report only stumbles when it comes to making its recommendations. The report calls for the new government, led by Lansana Kouyaté, to take the initative in combating the abuses of child household labor in Guinean society by strengthening the judiciary and supporting police efforts to follow-up on reports of household abuses. That's a tall order for a government and police force that has yet to gain the respect or trust of the population (especially after the murderous rioting of January and February), but such are the always-idealistic-rarely-realistic recommendations of Human Rights Watch.

No comments: