Shedding light on invisible workers in east Africa and the DRC

Shedding light on invisible workers in east Africa and the DRC


A regional project in five African countries, co funded by the EU and jointly implemented by 14 government and civil society organisations, interviewed 22 000 domestic workers and their employers. Through advocacy campaigns, governments agreed to legalize and integrate millions of domestic workers in accordance with ILO Conventions 189 on domestic workers and 182 on worst forms of child labour. The results also suggest innovative ways to design future development projects.

Deborah, a domestic worker from the DRC. Credit: IDAY/ Rosalie Colfs.The issues related to the living and working conditions of domestic workers remain complex in Africa. Low and at times non-existent wages, long working hours, little if any leave, violence in various forms, job insecurity and lack of written contracts are pervasive.

Children and young people involved in domestic work are particularly vulnerable and are exposed to many abuses. They are usually school dropouts and their prospects to reintegrate into the education system or vocational training are limited. Domestic workers, hidden behind walls, are described as “invisible workers”. They receive little if any attention from their authorities. Domestic work is considered, in some situations, as modern slavery.

At the initiative of the IDAY coalitions in 4 East African countries and DRC, large regional surveys were carried out in order to assess the real scope of domestic work and to define future actions to protect child and young domestic workers. These surveys identified the socio-economic profile of domestic workers (number, social origin, literacy level, etc.) and of their employers, as well as the expectations of domestic workers in terms of training, and the employers’ professional demands.

IDAY network collected quantitative and qualitative data from more than 22 000 respondents – child and adult domestic workers as well as employers - in the DRC, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya. The regional report gathers the key results of the national surveys, and highlights some of the convergences and disparities among the 5 countries.

A call to action

This survey’s results are unique. They are intended to help convince the authorities and the public at large of the urgent need to engage strong and long-term actions to protect child and young domestic workers. Moreover, the results provide important data and innovative approaches for the design of future development projects.  It is hoped that domestic workers can be brought out of the shadows and are given the necessary visibility to mobilize the authorities to uphold their rights.

Quick facts on domestic workers in the region:

  • Domestic workers are estimated at 8.5 million in the region;
  • Children and young people account for more than 80 %;
  • Women are slightly over-represented in domestic work (6 women for 4 men); this ratio increases among child domestic workers;
  • Almost 1 in 5 domestic workers never went to school;
  • Except in Kenya, there are no regulation for domestic work;
  • 40 % of employers express their willingness to give time-off to domestic workers to acquire skills.

Find out more information and read the report here.