UN Special Rapporteur: Domestic Servitude Can Be Contemporary Slavery
Monday, December 7, 2009 11:30 AM

4 December 2009

The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, released a statement arguing that many domestic workers around the world “are effectively being treated as slaves” on 2 December 2009, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Shahinian described “domestic servitude or slavery [as] a situation when a vulnerable individual is forced, by physical and/or moral coercion, to work without any real financial reward, is deprived of his or her liberty, and is in a situation which is contrary to human dignity.” She noted that domestic workers are vulnerable to this form of slavery because of their lack of protection and close relationship between employer and employee.

Despite work by the UN and NGOs to combat this form of contemporary slavery, its practice is still widespread, with children and migrant workers made particularly vulnerable. Children are isolated from their families and placed into “trainee” programs to avoid child protection laws, while many migrants are especially insecure due to their legal status within the host country. 

For many, seeking employment in other countries is the only means to alleviate poverty and most workers are unaware of the conditions that they will face upon accepting a position. “Domestic workers are beaten, raped, forced into confinement, denied food and contact with others,” Shahinian said. And, “...they are often trapped due to lack of information or opportunity to seek help, as well as by financial pressures and debts...”

Shahinian called for governments to ratify international treaties for rights for children and migrants in order to better combat slavery.

Compiled from: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “’Slavery exists in households around the world’ says UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery” (2 December 2009).