Poverty aggravates sexual exploitation of domestic helpers
By Nomzamo Gwebu
Sihle Ncube (20) from Cowdry Park says a lot of young girls in Zimbabwe who work as maids or domestic workers are subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. Sihle says most domestic workers are either threatened to stop reporting the abuse or have no resources to mount court challenges against their abusers.
Narrating her experience, Sihle says she started to work as a domestic worker soon after completing her ordinary level. Although she had planned to pursue a career, Sihle says her mother was too poor and could not afford to fund her studies any further.
“Soon after my examinations, I started to look for any job so that I could help my mother to take care of our family. I was fortunate to get a job as a domestic worker at a house in Khumalo, a low density suburb in Bulawayo,” says Sihle.
When she started work, Sihle says she was relieved to find out that her work environment looked peaceful. She says her employer stayed with her husband and one child and that she was alone most of the time.
Sihle say her nightmare started when her employer’s husband took some leave days from his workplace. The situation was awkward in that she was now spending the day with her employer’s husband.
“I was uncomfortable with this development and my fears were confirmed when a few days later, he started to compliment me saying I was beautiful. I did not want to be rude to him and I politely avoided any discussions with him. He persisted with his advances and at times he would touch me inappropriately. I thought of quitting the job but I knew that my mother would be disappointed as she was already relieved that I was now taking care of myself,” says Sihle.
Sihle says the situation continued to worsen to the extent that he was now giving her presents as a way of buying her silence whenever he touched her indecently.
“I began to seriously consider telling my employer what her husband was up to but an unfortunate incident happened before I told her. One day she returned home unexpectedly and found him holding me. She was furious and she accused me of seducing her husband. She instantly dismissed me from my job. She gave me no chance to explain what was happening. I thought of reporting her actions to the police but realised that it was going to be difficult to explain why I had not reported the abuse before,” says Sihle.
Sihle reveals that if her mother was not desperate for money, she would have left her employment earlier.
Lethkuthula Sibanda (33) is a young woman who also once worked as a maid. Lethkuthula says it is now risky to work as a domestic worker because of the rampant abuse by employers who take advantage of widespread poverty.
“I once worked as a domestic worker in Emakhandeni, a high density suburb in Bulawayo. My boss’s husband was rich and he used his wealth to lure girls in to sex. He tried so many times to offer me money in exchange of sexual favours but I was old enough to realise that it was all exploitation,” says Lethkuthula.
Lethkuthula says that at times the husband would be harsh to her when his wife was around, just to hide his sexual advances. She says at times the husband would promise to double the amount of her salary but she refused all that.
After several months of warding off the sexual advances, Lethkuthula says she finally got another job in a different environment. She says her emplyer, who was unaware of her husband’s sinister advances questioned why she was leaving without giving notice.
“I just fabricated some lies that my grandmother was not feeling well and i wanted to take care of her. I could not tell her about her husband’s sexual escapades,” says Lethkuthula.
Lethkuthula says women and girls do not chose to be domestic workers but are forced by circumstances. She says the government should come up with policies that promotes girls to be in school or tertiary institutions.
“Promoting job creation in the formal sector and opening opportunities for girls will reduce the abuse that girls are exposed to,” says Lethkuthula .
This month, the African continent commemorates the Day of the African Child (DAC) with calls to increase efforts on eliminating harmful practice affecting children. The theme for the Day of the African Child (DAC) 2022 is “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy & Practice since 2013.” Lethkuthula feels that worsening poverty in Zimbabwe is fuelling harmful practices affecting girls such as sexual exploitation and child marriage.