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Domestic workers face heightened abuse

A victim of domestic violence at Isange One Stop Centre. / Photo: File.

When she was 15 years old, Umulisa (not real name) dropped out of school in order to support her mother fend for her five siblings. Their family was poor.

She resorted to casual employment, largely working with her mother on people’s farms in Rulindo, her home district.


It is here, 18 months ago, that a man approached her with a better offer to work as a house help in Kigali.


When The New Times found Umulisa at Isange One Stop Centre in Kigali last week, she was being treated for physical injuries and receiving mental support.


Umulisa has trouble narrating exactly what happened to her, but given the injuries she has on her back, neck, arms and legs, she appears to have been severely beaten by her boss whom she describes as enraged and malicious.

Umulisa was 16-years-old when she started working; not mature enough to be employed.

She is among the many underage girls subjected to domestic work and abuse by their bosses.

The violence such girls are subjected to is not limited to physical assault.

By the time The New Times was following up on Umulisa’s story in Kacyiru Sector, one of the local leaders was investigating a case of another domestic worker who was allegedly impregnated by her boss.

The 19 year-old (name withheld) told this publication that she’s struggling to raise money to carry out a DNA test to prove that the boss is responsible for her pregnancy.

“I cannot go back in Huye district to my family with the child. If I cannot prove that my boss is the father I will probably be a street vendor,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, there is no particular supporting scheme for domestic workers.

Crimes and offenses against them are treated as the law stipulates, the ministry says.

Offenses committed against domestic workers are often categorized as assault and battery and gender-based crimes.

Mary Musoni is an Attorney at Legal Aid Forum, which provides pro bono legal services for the vulnerable and poor.

She told The New Times that every month the Forum receives at least 30 to 50 cases, which are similar to Umulisa’s.

She says that there are many such cases that go unreported because domestic workers don’t know their rights.

Many domestic workers work under no contractual agreements and regulations are set by their employers.

Musoni thinks that the fact that domestic workers have little control over their work and do not know their rights makes their job risky.

The problems of domestic workers are also compounded by the fact that they don’t have formal employment contracts with employment terms entirely determined by their bosses.

In Umulisa’s case, for instance, her monthly wage was Rwf10,000 – which could easily be decreased or not paid at all since she did not have a formal employment contract.

Advocacy and human rights awareness

Both Mary Musoni and Christopher Sesonga agree that domestic violence against house-helps is avoidable because judicial services can be easily and freely accessed.

Apart from advocating for domestic workers, Musoni and Sesonga called for human rights activists, commission and other concerned parties to develop educational programmes for the public to raise awareness on human rights violence.

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