The recent account of a young mother in New York who found her two children stabbed to death by the nanny was a chilling reminder that child abuse is a terrifying possibility. For parents who trust the sources of referral in finding a loving, responsible caregiver for their young, the thought that the person they select might harm their child is chilling.
But it happens and it's a growing problem. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2005 there were 46,000 reported cases of child abuse perpetrated by nannies and other caregivers. Not all of those cases result in the death of a child but it is a startling statistic.
At the same time, nannies themselves are often abused by employers.
"She jumped from her balcony and landed on our patio pleading for help. We took her to a women's shelter." I heard this story of a Filipina maid trying to escape abusive treatment when I was in Jordan recently. The woman who recounted this chilling experience said she'd often heard screams from the apartment above hers.
The woman who told me this story has a Filipina nanny, but her nanny's experience and that of the fleeing woman couldn't be more different. One receives a good salary paid on time and regular days off. She is provided decent accommodation and food and is free to leave the apartment whenever she wants. The family includes her in activities. Her passport is hers to keep. The maid desperate for help had no time, no money, no respect and no passport in her possession. She had likely been physically abused as well.
Filipinos constitute "the face of domestic work around the world." Millions of women leave the Philippines in search of jobs as maids and nannies abroad. Often they realize on their first day of work that they have been grossly deceived. Many find themselves in nightmare scenarios constituting modern slavery.
Now global standards to protect domestic workers have been promulgated by the Philippine Senate following a campaign launched by the Visayan Forum Foundation, a Philippine NGO founded to end modern-day slavery and abuse perpetrated among domestic workers. The campaign was launched in June with an event called Walk Free. Over 40,000 supporters from 159 countries gathered to march in Makati City, galvanizing public support for senators to ratify the International Labour Organization's Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, or ILO 189.
"The walk set in motion a national social movement that challenged the prevailing sense of apathy and helplessness with the belief that together, modern slavery can be eliminated within this lifetime," a Walk Free spokesperson said.