DOMESTIC WORK IS WORK: Toward Increased Freedom for Household Servants

Millions of domestic workers around the world are particularly vulnerable to forced labor. Overwhelmingly female and typically from developing countries in Africa assume great risks when migrating abroad. As a recent ILO report noted, the origins of domestic work trace back to a “master- servant” relationship rooted in slavery and other forms of servitude. Despite such linkages, many countries, do not offer protection to domestic workers under prevailing labor laws, perceiving their work as something other than regular employment. This lack of legal protections- combined with the social isolation and a lack of personal autonomy inherent in live- in domestic service- provides an enabling enviroment for slavery.

Domestic workers are vulnerable to all forms of abuse, though forced labor is one of the most severe. Such abuses often include confinement, confiscation of travel documents, withholding of salary, physical and sexual abuse, and threats of harm, including the threat of arrest and summary deportation as an undocumented migrant. For domestic workers from another country, freedom often is proscribed by law; some countries’ “sponsorship” laws grant the employer of a foreign domestic worker the power to decide when she can leave the workplace and when she can leave the country, even if the servant has escaped and reported abuse.

The ILO notes that in many countries, domestic work is largely performed by children. When children are used as servants instead of being educated, the situation should be remedied. When the child is abused, the employer should face criminal, not administrative, sanctions.

SAAHTT receives Australian Government Grant

SAAHTT has received a grant from the Australian Embassy under its Direct Aid Program. The grant involves purchase of equipment such a a heavy duty printer, laptop, video camera, projector. The grant also involves the development of the SAAHTT official website which is to be launched in the next few weeks.

Each year SAAHTT continues to advance its mission of facilitating the development of a Southern African society free from all forms of trafficking in persons. This is achieved by availing technical support and building awareness to deal with the ever increasing challenge of human trafficking in the region.

At SAAHTT we are very appreciative to the Australian government through its embassy in Harare and in particular his Excellency Ambassador Matthew. E. K. Neuhaus for the commitment to help combat Modern Day Slavery in the form of Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe and the rest of the Southern African Region. With the help of the grant we will continue to see improvements and greater impact from our Anti Trafficking work.

Child Sex Trafficking and Related Abuses

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Child Sex Trafficking

According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. International covenants and protocols obligate criminalisation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in commercial sex trade is prohibited under the UN TIP Protocol. There can be no exceptions and no cultural or socio- economic rationalization that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/ AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possible death. 

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

CSEC is the sexual exploitation of children for the commercial gain of some person(s). CSEC includes all child prostitution as well as child pornography. This is not human trafficking per se, as some forms of CSEC such as child pornography are not always a form of human trafficking. Most forms of CSEC, however are forms of human trafficking, such as child sex trafficking.

Child Sex Tourism (CST)

This is one form of “demand” for victims of child sex trafficking. It involves people who travel from their own country- often a country where child sexual exploitation is illegal or culturally abhorrent to another country where they engage in commercial sex acts with children. CST is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of violent child abuse. It often involves trafficking, as a trafficking crime likely was committed in the provision of the child for sex tourist’s exploitation.



Helping trafficking victims access legal avenues to justice, restitution and other compensation for their suffering is a key element of any effective victim protection strategy. It is particularly crucial in addressing the needs of foreign victims who are not familiar with laws, customs, rights, and procedures in the country to which they were trafficked.


The laws and legal process in most countries are not easily accessed or understood by people who do not have legal training. Rescued human trafficking victims may fear possible criminal charges or deportation, retaliation by traffickers if they give information to police, or attacks against family members. At the same time, they need services such as medical care, food, clothing, and safe housing. Access to legal advice and information can help them through the stress and confusion in the weeks and months following their rescue.


Legal assistance helps trafficking victims know their rights, obtain key information, and understand the options that are available to them.

Legal systems vary throughout the world and the needs of trafficking victims must be considered individually. NGOs that assist and shelter trafficking victims should assist victims with the following legal issues:

  • Legal rights: Victims should know their legal rights, status, and the legal process in which proceedings will take place. They should know how to access services or benefits that may be available to them, such as interpretation, medical care, housing, education, e.t.c.
  • Immigration law and immigration proceeding: Victims trafficked across a border may not have proper documentation and may need assistance in obtaining identity documents. Victims may need immigration relief, if available, after rescue or during an extended stay in the destination country.
  • Criminal law: victims should not be punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. But they may need legal assistance if they are arrested or detained in the course of rescue. Victims should also have access to legal advice regarding criminal proceedings related to their case and available options regarding giving evidence and testimony. If possible, an attorney should accompany a victim to legal proceedings related to the victim’s case.
  • Civil Law: Victims should know of available avenues for restitution or compensation through a civil claim for damages against perpetrators or others responsible.
  • Child victims: Trafficking victims under 18 should have access to legal representation related to custody, care, and juvenile law.

Debunking Common Trafficking Myths

Initial Consent: A person may agree to migrate legally or illegally or take a job willingly. But once that work or service is no longer voluntary, that person becomes a victim of forced labor or forced prostitution and should accordingly receive the protections contemplated by the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Once a person’s work is recruited or compelled by the use or threat of physical violence or the abuse or threatened abuse of legal process, the person’s previous consent or effort to obtain employment with the trafficker becomes irrelevant. 

A person may agree to work for an employer initially but later decide to stop working because the conditions are not what they agreed to. If an employer then uses force, fraud, or coercion to retain the person’s labor or services, the employer becomes a trafficking offender and the employee becomes a victim.

Prior Work History: Previous employment choices also do not exclude the possibility that a person maybe a victim of trafficking. Some government officials fail to identify victims of sex trafficking because they may have willingly worked in the sex industry prior to being trafficked. Law enforcement may fail also to identify victims of labor trafficking because they are migrant workers and may have previously worked in difficult conditions, either legally or illegally. Whether a person is a victim of labor trafficking turns on whether that person’s service or labor was induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Wage Payment: If a person is compelled to labor through the use of force or coercion- including the use of nonphysical forms of coercion such as financial harm- then that work or service is forced, even if he is paid or compensated for the work.

History of Human Trafficking


Slavery in the 1800s

Slavery can be dated right back to the establishment of any form human civilization. In fact, this practice had become so common that the people of that time had accepted it as a truth of life. This attitude was broken down only when great Enlightenment thinkers like, John Locke and Voltaire brought into picture the idea of freedom of the individual, and his thoughts and that, to keep another person in bondage is wrong.

In the ancient times, people mostly acquired their slaves from the wars and conquests. These slaves worked as agricultural or domestic servants. This practice had become so common amongst the people that, in Rome and Greece, human trafficking had become a huge and profitable industry. It is said that half the population of such places were in bondage. By imperial times Rome had grown to be a huge city. Since most of the work was done by slaves, Claudius built the huge harbour at Ostia, where grain, wild beasts and slaves were constantly being unloaded to feed the stomachs and jaded palates of the people. Even though Roman thinkers like, Pliny and Cicero did their best to convince the masters to treat their slaves with compassion and dignity, their pleas were largely ignored. They were treated with extreme cruelty, sometimes even leading to severe flogging and crucification. Even if a few slaves tried to protest they were suppressed and ignored.

Later on, when the Roman Empire began to disintegrate and slowly be replaced by the authoritarian powers of the church, slaves became serfs or peasants, who were forced to stay on the local lord’s land and were not allowed to leave without their permission. Even outside of Rome, there were Arab, North-America, India and various other places all around the world where slavery was extremely common. In fact, in the Hindu caste system there were millions of people who were held in bondage behind the culture of the so-called religious practices.

It wasn’t until the 15th Century that slavery became global, with explorers discovering new territories, and the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French and English establishing their colonies all over the world. Initially, only the indigenous people of the bonded country particiapted in the labor force but, as demand for servants increased with increased economic output, slaves were imported from other countries, starting the tradition of moving slaves from one region to another. The Atlantic slave trade is a good example of cultures, like the Portuguese, Spanish and English, exploiting the people groups of West Africa and forcing them into service in new colonies in the Western Hemisphere. A base was established on the coast as early as 1448, from which relatively small numbers of slaves were shipped back to Portugal. Heavy field work, however proved alien to these new American Indian slaves. Many died, often by suicide, when forced to work on European plantations. European labour was also brought in, both by the forcible transportation of convicts and by independent labour schemes under which immigrants were bound to their masters for a number of years. Again, however, expectations of life was short. Portuguese ships then began to take slaves direct to their colony of Brazil. In 1562 John Hawkins began the English slave trade between West Africa and the Caribbean. Dutch, French, Danes and later sailors from the North and South America joined in the business. European nations established forts on the West African coast to protect the interests of their slave traders.

It is estimated that some eight to ten million slaves were carried across the Middle Passage to America. The economies of European cities, such as Nantes, Bristol and later Liverpool, were based on slaving, and the business was accepted as a part of the national commercial interest. The individual suffering of slaves would ultimately receive wide publicity; the impact the trade had on African society is harder to quantify. European sailors rarely penetrated inland to find their own captives. Domestic slavery already existed on the continent, and Africans initially sold their own slaves to purchase European goods. In time, however, demand outstripped this source of supply. Military confederacies such as Dahomey and Ashanti grew up to fulfil the double function of protecting their own members and feeding slaves to the European forts. When Europeans later penetrated the continent, they discovered that these states often acted with a savagery atypical of African society farther inland. The demand for slaves created an endemic state of war that penetrated inland, far beyond any direct European contact. The resulting depopulation appears, however, to have been largely balanced by improvements in the African diet as a result of the importation of American crops. Even though various changes in the pattern of slavery had come about, the treatment that they were subject to was still the same. Brutal punishments, crushing work and a harsh life was the word of the day. Yet, still Spain and Portugal did show some sort of relaxation in their labour laws, like, allowing them to marry or even sue a cruel owner.

In the 1770s, a transformation began to occur in attitudes towards the social issues. For centuries, Europeans had been shipping Africans to slavery with no apparent compunction. Now powerful antislavery movements made themselves heard in France, Denmark, England and other countries. Movements for the reform of vicious penal systems, the abolition of the ‘hanging codes’ and for the humane treatment of the insane can be dated to the same time. Credit for this new mood of social reforms has been given to the pen of Voltaire, the preachings of Wesley and the ideals of Rousseau. In the 1800s we see that many of the independent nations of Spanish America outlawed slavery as soon as they aachieved their independence. The British Empire also outlawed the practice in 1833 although some sort of de facto slavery did continue in India and some other parts of the world. France even freed its bonded labour in its colonies in 1848. In the U.S. too the Civil War did finally lead the way up to the freedom for its slaves.

Today, slavery and human trafficking is banned all over the world. Even the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery completely. It says that, “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Yet this idea of a completely free world with no form of slavery in practice still requires much effort to be achieved.