RABAT // Tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are working as domestic servants in Morocco with no legal protections and subject to abuse and poor conditions, a Human Rights Watch report said yesterday.
The rights group was following up on its 2005 study that found about 86,000 girls were working as maids in violation of Moroccan and international law, which sets the work age at 15.
While the new report said the situation in the North African kingdom of 32 million people had improved, the phenomenon of child labour was still widespread.
"Laws prohibiting the employment of children under 15 are still not effectively enforced, and, according to the girls we interviewed, working conditions for those entering domestic work are often abusive and exploitative," said the report. "Domestic workers generally - children and adults alike - are still excluded from Morocco's Labor Code."
The labour code sets a minimum wage of US$261 (Dh960) a month in the industrial sector and a work week of 44 hours. Domestic workers are not covered by the law, however, and those who talked to Human Rights Watch described average monthly wages of $61 and work days stretching from 6am to midnight.
The girls often come from impoverished rural villages and are sent to the city to work in the homes of the wealthy, where many reported being verbally and physically mistreated. Half of the report's sample had dropped out of school, while a third had never attended.
The Moroccan government responded to the report saying awareness campaigns and law enforcement have dropped the number involved in all sorts of child labour from 517,000 in 1999 to 123,000 in 2011.
A law governing labour conditions for domestic workers has been under development since 2006 and may be on the upcoming parliamentary agenda.
Human Rights Watch, however, maintained in the report that enforcement is lax and more should be done to end the employment of those under 15 and increase protections for those above the minimum age.
"The distinctive circumstances of child domestic work - involving work in private homes, far from one's family, and isolated from the outside world - require unique strategies to prevent children's entry into domestic labour, to identify and withdraw them from illegal and hazardous work, and to provide these children with appropriate assistance," the report said.