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In Burkina Faso, thousands of young girls leave their home villages to seek employment as a domestic servant with a family in the city. In many cases these girls are still children, without the benefit of any kind of protection, and thus open to exploitation or abuse. Since 2006, Terre des hommes (Tdh) – Lausanne, has been working tirelessly to protect these young girls and to make people aware of their situation. This time, Tdh is endeavouring to treat the problem from a new angle, that of the employers. In July, meetings have been organized with some twenty women ‘employers’, to make them more aware of the poor treatment handed out to these children.
Whilst carrying health-related activities for mothers and children, Terre des hommes realized that many villages showed the phenomenon of a massive and voluntary movement of hundreds of young girls (from the age of 10), from the province of Sourou to Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulasso, with the intention of becoming domestic servants there. To compensate for this ever-growing situation, the Foundation has set up localized actions for awareness-heightening, with a view to preventing the dangers caused by migration, such as exploitation.
The experiences of migration
One of the objectives of the girls migrating from Sourou is to be able to acquire the goods and money for their marriage dowry. The migration also gives them the additional value of getting to know the world, serving them as a rite of initiation. Sadly, not all the girls come back unscathed, and some undergo traumatic experiences such as physical violence and situations of sexual abuse that sometimes lead to unwanted pregnancies.
There are very few structures specializing in taking in and protecting girl victims of bad treatment. In the cities/towns there are ‘landlords’ who take charge of the migrating girls, by helping them find a job and accommodation. However, the legitimacy of these venues is in question. What is really the part played by the landlords: help and protection for the girls or the organization of a network for children working as domestic servants?
With a lack of proper access to schooling or skills training, the future of these young domestics from Sourou remains obscure or limited.
Terre des hommes makes the ‘mistresses’ aware
Parallel to the aid brought to the little domestic workers (awareness-making, looking after their health and giving access to professional training), Tdh has started sessions of training about child rights and protection to a group of women who employ children as domestics in four districts of Ouagadougou (Zogona, Wemenga, Pag-Layiri and Nonssin). The aim of these activities is to offer an opportunity for the exchange of views and to learn to take into account the potentially serious risks the girls run when taking on this kind of job. At the start of 2013 there were four participants, now there are more than twenty of them at the meetings. The message of awareness seems to be well accepted. Zalissa, one of the participants and an employer of girl domestic workers, says: “Tdh urges us to look after the girls really well, and to treat them as if they were our own children.”
One of the project’s targets is to affect a maximum number of people working with children and the make the action long-lasting. Salimata Ouattara, one of Tdh’s social workers, states: “Our aim is to make these employers realize the situation so they can make other employers aware of it.” The group of women has taken up Tdh’s cause and turned themselves into an association which already anticipates running activities such as theatre plays to raise awareness, to avoid that the children who are, first of all, ‘their girls’, have to do the worst kinds of work.