Hiring a house-help is inevitable. Many children never dream of becoming domestic servants; however there are despicable things that are done in their presence like fighting, divorces that often influence the rest of their lives.
House helps are often accused of setting houses and children, stealing property, defiling infants and many other ills. But all this is like a cancer disease, each time it is treated, it comes back in a different form.
Despite all problems associated with these house-helpers, people seem unable to go about day to day house chores and activities without them. They are an indispensable good but with an astonishing lifestyle.
Rukundo and Andrew Kayitare are young boys below the age of 18 and live in Nyamirambo. At this tender age, they should have been in school. But, the poverty of their families and their frail parents stand in the way of their education.
The two, wake up early to begin domestic chores that include doing the laundry for the entire family, cooking, cleaning and looking after three children. In all, they do all the household activities.
They spoke out about their lifestyle and work when I reached them on Wednesday.
“My ‘aunt’ would beat me every time I would not finish cooking in time. At home, they told me to call her aunt though I am related with her,” Kayitare tells his story in a sad and bitter voice. She stares up into space, talking only when prompted.
“We really want to go to school, but our father who lives in Nyamata-Bugesera says that he doesn’t have the money to educate us, and there is no person to help him earn some small money either,” the two echoed their stories.
Rukundo says that many times what they earn is given back to their families, “We don’t earn much. When my brother goes to wash the car, I boil porridge for the three children or mop the house.”
While talking to them, they said that getting a job as a domestic worker is not so smooth a ride. Whether one knows about home management or not, working experience is highly required to be able to cope up with the challenges.
An official in-charge of children in the Ministry of Family Promotion and Gender, Alfred Karekezi, says that the number of children employed as domestic servants in the country is yet to be established.
“We always carry out campaigns against people who abuse the children’s rights. The laws are in place to protect their rights but sometimes don’t hold,” Karekezi explained.
When John Akayesu, told his bosses last year that after the July/August holiday, that he would go back to school like many of his age mates, they thought he was making a big joke.
“I have just quit my job in Remera where I was employed as a cook. But it was not easy because preparing food for about seven family members was a tough task,” Akayesu said. He was later told to help as a baby-sitter but after a few months, his bosses said he had no skills to look after babies.
Akayesu is now looking for a benefactor who can help finance his education. He dropped out of school in primary two.
The fate of Akayesu’s two sisters was no better than his. They also found positions as maid-servants two years ago.
The girls, who refused to be named, were recruited to do general house cleaning for a salary of Frw7000 every month. “When I took over my assignment, discipline and hard-work were strongly highlighted,” one of the girls said with a visible feeling of bitterness.
Akayesu says their mother was submissive towards the husband throughout her life. Realising that we were on our way to work as domestic servants, she could do nothing except cry quietly as we were taken away.
“I don’t hate my father for what he did with me because he is a poor man who didn’t have anything at hand.
Phinah Mukama is a parent of two and hired two house-helpers, a boy and a girl.
She says some family heads subject children who work for them to abuses and tortures. She says that sometimes girls can be exploited by defiling them and later sent away.
According to the Secretary General in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Skills Development (Mifotra), Marceline Mukarurangwe, the ministry was carrying out a survey to ascertain the number of children employed in the homes.
She said that though the law against employing children is in place, this has not stopped households from taking on girls or boys and it subjects many to gruelling hours and mistreatment of various forms.
Mukarurangwe said Mifotra was working hand-in-hand with the National Institute of Statistics to establish which major sectors are using the underage.
“We hope to release the report around May next year,” Mukarurangwe said.
Another parent, Rosemary Gasasira, 22, is married with two children, a daughter of six years and a two-year-old son. Rose is doing everything possible to ensure that her children experience a different life.
“I will do everything for my children to ensure a bright future for them,” she said. She proudly states that her daughter is doing well and she is about to graduate to the next class with a good average.
Annet Murungi, 18, was able to escape a life of exploitation and says, “I was 14 when my mother handed me over to a well-to-do family in Kigali, and their notorious son, a teenager of 16 or 17, did everything to take advantage of me when his parents were away (and) I could say nothing about it.”
She adds, “It was terrible and each time they would side with the son. The son was so spoilt that no one would believe me. They were the masters and allowed him to do anything in the family.”
Regina was only 12 years old and had barely completed grade two of primary school when her sick mother asked her to drop out.
“‘My mother needed me to go and work at my uncle’s house,” says Regina, who declined to give her second name.
Such is the lifestyle of house-helpers which I may not have exhausted. They are caught between the dishes, housework and the care of children. Their childhood is stolen at that tender age and taken advantage of in the name of poverty.