Children in the shadow: Unescapable family conditioning


Female children of domestic workers are not allowed to work as anything else but domestic help, even after getting minimum education. 

In India the working women today aides the economic status of the household and the society as a whole. But our nation is yet to actualize the true potential of women. Even today 94% of women are working in the unorganized sector involved in work which lacks the dignity of labour, social security, decent and timely wages and in some cases even the right to be called a worker. This is because women are constantly making work choices which allow them to manage their domestic and childcare responsibilities along with paid work. As well as the fact that patriarchal and religious norms restrict a women’s mobility and her agency to make decisions. This reflects on the lives of their children; the children of these domestic workers get bounded by societal norms and can never leave the loop.  

The condition of domestic workers in India is pathetic, they are denied the minimum wage. After the pandemic, their financial condition worsened than before. This makes the lives of their children very difficult. They are unable to give their children proper healthcare and education. Moreover, the societal conditioning doesn’t allow the female child of domestic workers to move out of this loop even after getting minimum education. They are always bounded by the chain of discrimination. They are forced to take up the same jobs as their mothers. Bharti who works as a domestic worker even after completing her graduation degree said, “They(parents) don’t let me work anywhere because they feel it is a bad influence. My education is of no use to me. I can’t use my knowledge in my present, I could have started free tuition classes for children but I can’t.” She also added that she is being told that all her education will be useful after her marriage. Bharti said that she has no freedom in her house, she just has to abide by the words her parents tell her to do. She said, “I can’t do anything of my own I just have to listen to whatever they are asking me to do.”

Bharti reading a book after completing her work as a domestic help

Divya T. completed her Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and still works as a domestic worker. She said, “My family told me that in the IT field and all there is night shift, you have to go whenever they will call you. So, you stay in the house and come with me like a domestic worker. I like studying, but I cannot do anything because of family pressure.” She further added, “They think other works is not safe so either they will get the girl married and then she will work as a domestic worker or she will work as her mother but can’t do anything else.” Divya teaches children of domestic workers so that she can motivate the next generation to get out of this loop. She said, “There is a lot of problem with fees, say if the parents earn rupees 10,000, they have to spend the whole 10,000 on fees so most of these kids drop out of the schools. As the education discontinues everyone comes to work as a domestic worker.” 

Gender wise percentage of students dropped out of school in 2020

Source: Government of India & The Federal

Education is only considered a tool to get good husbands for these girls. These girls are unable to move out of the family conditioning because they are not financially independent. The money they earn working as domestic help is either taken by their parents or husbands. Radha who is working with Stree Jagruthi Samithi for the last seven years said, “Domestic workers want their female children to study so that they can find a nice groom for the girls. As educated girls get good rishtas.”  

Field volunteer of Stree Jagruthi Samithi Radha, said, “Definitely education is the solution to all the problems we face but it is really difficult to get out of the family structure and the patriarchy belief of our family.” She said that Bharti is the biggest example of this, she stated that in Bharti’s house she has no freedom of choice, so in such a situation education doesn’t matter.  Radha further added, “when girls go out, they meet 10 new people their condition and thinking gets shared which their parents don’t want.”  

The number of domestic workers in different cities of India has increased over the years
Source: Stree Jagruti Samithi

Census shows numbers of female workers aged 15-59 went up 17% between the years 2017 and 2020. In the Cities, it went up over 70% from around 14.7 million in 2017 to 25 million in 2020. Domestic workers are highly exploited and denied just wages and human working conditions. The children are trapped in the same loop. As they are forced to leave school to help the family, especially the female child is expected to join hands with their mother.  According to the Stree Jagruti Samithi, the dropout rate of domestic workers’ children has increased by 20% in the last two years. Pandemic has also contributed to this number by making the situation more worsen. Kaveri 10 years old, the daughter of a domestic worker said, “I work with my mother at people’s house. On leave days I go to work with my mother. After school also I go with Amma.  I don’t like to work there but Ama told me that this will help her and we can earn more money. Ama told me that I have to learn this work. But I don’t want to work like this in future I want to be a dance master.”  

Labour legislation in India shows that because of the constraints in the definition of ‘workman’, ‘employer’, or ‘establishment’ domestic workers are not included in the scope of several labour laws. The nature of their work, specificity of employee-employer relationship and workplace being a private household instead of a public place or private establishment, excludes their coverage from the existing laws.  

Sometimes these children fall prey to harassment as they go to the different households with their mothers but these are never reported or solved. Radha said, “last year we came across 6 harassment cases of these children. This always goes unreported and unsolved. They don’t report any cases because if they do so the employer will throw them out immediately.”  

The status of women workers in the unorganized sector especially the domestic workers requires drastic improvement. It is therefore time to address the issues these children are facing and discuss the kind of policy reform and institutional changes required for the emancipation and empowerment of the female children of domestic workers.  



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