Lured to Kampala by promise of education or a job, young girls are being exploited as housemaids and nannies.
They are the unseen people of Kampala. Unseen because they are walled in behind tall fences, large gates, and strong locks. They are the housemaids and nannies smuggled into the city on promises of a good job and an education. But what they find upon arriving often becomes a nightmare.
“I left my village in Apac district when I was seven years after my aunt asked my mother to bring me to Kampala for education. We used to stay in Wandegeya and I had to look after my cousins instead of going to school,” Atim Cinderella (not real name) narrated.
Atim, now 16 years old, is studying in P.4 at Edinance Primary School in Kyebando. She said that she used to look after her cousins at the age of seven. While they went to school, she would stay at home doing domestic work.
“I used to do a lot of work and she used to mistreat me and would not allow me to visit my parents in the village on grounds that if I went I would tell them my ordeal. She used not to pay me and I used to do a lot of work.”
Atim recalls going to bed at midnight and waking up at 5am to prepare her cousins for school.
“I would not mind doing the work if I was going to school, but what hurt me is that my cousins were going to school while I stayed home doing work,” she said.
She decided to return to the village using money given to her by her uncle. But it was not long before she returned to the city to find another job as a housemaid.
Even at the new job, things were not easy. She worked for a monthly salary of only 30,000 shillings.
“My employer lady was a teacher at Wakiso and she used to leave me with her husband and children at home,” she said.
“One afternoon, I was reading the Bible when her husband came to my bedroom while drunk and wanted to rape me. I ran away to Bambejja (a home owned by Oasis Uganda) and explained to the social workers who took me to school and got me another home to live in,” added Atim.
Atim’s story is not so different from many other girls brought from the countryside to Kampala on promises of living a better life only to instead suffer as slaves.
Employers benefit from almost free labour and their victims remain too powerless to protest. But according to Florence Namuli, a counselor with Oasis Uganda, it doesn’t have to be that way, as the government has a responsibility towards its vulnerable citizens such as these.
“Housemaids need to be educated about their rights and a minimum wage set for them and many should be careful before they leave the village to come to Kampala,” said Namuli.
While the situation seems to be bad for the housemaids/boys, DIFRA Language Services, an employment bureau for maids, has started a sensitization campaign through a publication “Ebbaluwa ya Difra Eri
Omukozi Ow’amaka” (Difra’s letter to the housemaid) in which they encourage maids to build self-esteem and work towards self-sustenance.
On page thirteen of this Luganda language publication, there are tips for the maids on what they should know before starting to work.
They should know the place of residence where they are to work, what work they are being hired for, how much and when are they to be paid. Additionally, the hours of work, accommodation, and feed must be made known to the maid before starting duty.
The publication also gives novice maids tips on how to dress, interact with visitors and neighbours, as well as children in the home. But what does a young girl do when it is her own family that is taking advantage of her?
Namata Beatrice left Masaka in July this year after her aunt asked her to come with her to Entebbe to learn hairdressing and braiding.
For the first three days, her aunt asked her to stay at home with three kids on the pretext that she was recovering from the long journey, but as the days went on, it became apparent that Beatrice had been brought in as a Nannie of the children.
“I enjoyed the first few days because I would clean the house and the children, while anxious that after that week I would also leave home and go with my aunt to Entebbe to her salon to learn hairdressing,” narrated Namata. But she would never get the chance to learn a trade.
As days went by, her aunt started beating her and giving her heaps of clothes to wash.
“I eventually ran away from her place because I could not stomach the beating and mistreatment. On several occasions I was not given food on the pretext that I had not completed the day’s chores assigned to me,” narrated Namata.
Namata is currently undergoing tailoring lessons at Nangabo Technical Institute in Wakiso where she got sponsorship from a local NGO.
“There are people ferrying housemaids/girls from the villages, especially children, at night and practically imprisoning them in their houses as hard labourers for little or no pay,” said Nandi Ketty, the officer in charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit in Kampala Metropolitan Police. “Many of these are ignorant girls who are driven in posh cars and brought to Kampala or its suburbs. They are locked up in fences or bungalows.”
According to Nandi, the number of abused housemaids/girls is on the increase and few cases ever reach the police for investigation.
“Some pay as little as 10,000 shillings, but the majority pay approximately 30,000 per month and they are not allowed to communicate with their relatives,” Nandi explained.
She adds that if the girl acts up, employers simply drive them to the taxi park at night and abandon them without transport money.
“We had ten cases reported last year but we could not successfully investigate them for prosecution because the victims could not identify the homes where they were working,” added Nandi.
They have also been accused of causing marital problems where partners accuse each other of having an affair with the housemaid. This in turn leads to more abuse.
Anifa Nabasa 23, from Bonghoko in Mbale has a different story to tell. She left her home district, Mbale early this year and came to Kampala searching for a job as a housemaid.
She found her first job as a housemaid in Mutungo near Kampala with a Sudanese family. She recalls going to be bed after midnight and waking up as early as 5am to start working. Some of her duties included cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking and cleaning the compound.
Most of the girls who are brought into the city for such work are uneducated and have difficulty finding other jobs.
“After two months I felt I could not carry on with the work because it was too much and I was being paid 30,000 shillings from which I had to take medical care when I fell sick, plus finding my own food because I was not allowed to eat their food,” narrated Nabasa.
She has since left that job and is living with her aunt. But since she left school at an early age and never learned a trade, Nabasa has few options. She is currently looking for another job as a housemaid.
By Savio Kyambadde