Shamiso Yikoniko —
Early this year, 20-year-old Gladys Chukura allegedly forced her employer’s son (14) to have sexual intercourse with her after threatening to report him to the police for raping her.
She also threatened his family’s life. Chukura allegedly told the 14-year-old lad that she wanted to teach him how to have sex and when he refused, she threatened to burn his mother and mutilitate his six-month-old sister.
It is alleged that the complainant got frightened and opted to give in to her demands, resulting in Chukura having sexual intercourse with him without his consent.
A few weeks ago, Vaida Nzanga (20), a maid, caused the death of a minor after she left a bucket full of boiling water unattended resulting in it spilling and scalding the child. Nzanga was convicted of culpable homicide and was jailed for an effective three years.
The harrowing cases of child abuse by maids mentioned above are not isolated and the public has become quite used to reading such stories in the Press. However, in light of these incidents, perhaps it is time for the parents to start questioning the maid culture.
Are all housemaids evil? How can you tell a good maid from a bad one? What type of person tortures a child or takes a minor’s precious life?
Housemaids have become an integral part of family life as they provide the much-needed support to parents who often do not have extended family around to assist with childcare, or parents with careers who are often left with little choice as they require help to carry out their family responsibilities.
Childline confirmed that as an organisation they handle a number of cases where domestic workers are reported to be abusing children.
“We handle many cases of that nature but I can’t give you the figures for professional reasons. We receive tip-offs regarding caregivers ill-treating children left under their care, some of the cases we refer them to the police,” said a Childline official.
“However, we talk and counsel the victims, talk to the employer and caregiver so that we get to the bottom of the issue. We have realised that in some cases the children are reluctant to report such cases knowing that they spend a huge chunk of their time with these caregivers.”
Many see maids as a “necessary evil”. Research indicates that 58 percent of children under the age of three spend 30 to 70 hours a week with domestic helpers.
As parents strive to make ends meet, they have literally surrendered the parenting role to housemaids but child experts have warned against leaving the fate of children to nannies.
“Domestic helpers can never be a substitute for a parent. Working parents need to find time regardless of their schedules to spend quality time with their kids,” said a psychologist who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
“When there’s nobody around to monitor the child’s interaction with the maid, the chances of the child emulating the maid’s habits and behaviour are high.”
The prospect of hiring a maid to look after your child might sound good, because it is a cheaper option. For many the option of a daycare centre may be costly.
Mr Douglas Somerai, a maids agent in Harare, said his agency was formulated as a result of the problems that employers face when recruiting maids.
“However, not all maids are the problem, we also have some employers who are problematic and therefore, our agency works as a bridge to solve problems for both parties. We conduct security and background checks for maids before deploying them to employers because we understand that people come from different backgrounds and experiences.
“We also interview them before they become our members due to the fact that they must meet certain standards and expectations – some pass and some fail during the interviews.”
Ms Precious Muriri, a mother-of-two in Harare said although she would feel more comfortable taking her child to a daycare centre, her households budget just doesn’t stretch that far.
“I’d love my children to be at a daycare to avoid all the risks that come with maids, but I simply can’t afford it,” she said.
But why do some maids torture children?
Psychologists say there are many factors that could drive maids into becoming monsters.
“No-one is born evil, it’s all in one’s background. She might have experienced physical, emotional or even sexual abuse in her childhood. And due to such experiences, she slowly develops anger inside her which will later be unleashed on the child,” said the psychologist.
Nevertheless, some people argue that some employees mistreat the maids and they in turn bring out the anger on the children. It has been noted that most parents make the mistake of ill-treating their housemaids and the caregivers end up offloading on innocent children.
“Yes, that might be true but it’s a trigger not a cause.
“It’s always important to try and find out as much as possible about the maid, especially how she was raised before employing her,” added the psychologist.
“Because anything that brings bad memories may cause the maid to revenge on the child.”
Signs that a child is being mistreated
Sadly, children who are being mistreated rarely tell anyone.
“There are certain signs that indicate that a child is being abused. Not just physical, but also emotional and behavioural tell-tale changes in a child’s actions and attitudes,” explained the psychologist.
Behavioural changes to look out for include regressive behaviour, acting up, running away from people and changes in eating patterns, among others.
Parents should be concerned about are how their child interacts, if they are scared all the time, crying a lot, clinging to parents, being moody and withdrawn. Parents also need to look out for change in a child’s activities.
They may be showing signs of extreme behaviour like playing with sharp objects. Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities such as sports, clubs or playing an instrument can all be indicators of a child being mistreated or abused.
“Though many parents employ a maid to assist them in the household, the bulk of parenting duties should still be the parents’ responsibility,” said the psychologist.
In countries such as the United States, outsourced parenting often means getting professionals to teach children certain skills or behaviours such as sleep training or basic etiquette. Having a maid can enable parents attain work-life balance and harmony.
“Some parents forget that their children spend the bulk of their time with the caregivers hence they play an integral part in the children’s psychological and physical upbringing,” said Mr Somerai.
Ms Muriri said the trick is trust, where both employer and employee should create a bond that will see them developing a positive working environment.
“You find that some people give their maids paltry salaries which they themselves would never accept when offered yet they expect the maid to give them 100 percent services,” she added.
“Yes at times maids are wrong but as parents we should also be considerate because these are the very people we entrust with our homes and children.”
Domestic workers need to be treated with respect as they offer an important service.
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