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The Plight Of The ‘Donkey’ In The House 

By Patience Fai & Rita Fru*

Some of them had dreamt of becoming great musicians or reputable journalists. But most of them, whose parents could not fend for them upcountry and migrated to towns hoping for a better future, ended up as housemaids working for as long as 15 to 19 hours a day, if they are not being sexually harassed. A lot of them admit coming from large families of up to eight children and after dropping out of primary school.

Housemaid sweats it out in the kitchen

The greatest problem house helps seem to face is maltreatment from their masters or mistresses. Even those who are treated well, say they still face resentment when they fall sick and have since become accustomed to scornful remarks like "you better go and die in your parent’s house because I don’t want anybody’s child to die in my house", and "you like to exaggerate little illnesses". 

The following are some of the testimonies of house helps who hail from villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions like Mundemba, Ndian, Fundong, Nso and Kom. Marie’s (not her real names) ordeal began when she lost her father after completing primary school and her mother could not sponsor her further, given that she was just a petty trader ‘buyam-sellam’ with four other children. The 16-year-old girl says she wakes up at 5 am and the earliest time she goes to bed is 11 pm, but most often she sleeps at 1 am.

Marie said after several sexual harassments from her master, she wanted to go back to her parents. But the master and his wife have refused and she (Marie) is now in a fix as she cannot visit her biological parents. This case also applies to one Emelda who says "I’ve been here for six years but whenever I want to go and visit my parents, they refuse. So I don’t know when I will ever see them again. I just hope they are fine".

Another housemaid (names withheld) said she would have loved to continue her education after obtaining her First School Leaving Certificate, FSLC, but her father sent her to Buea to look for money to sponsor herself. Another victim in Bonduma confessed that "I don’t know when I will leave this house because they say I will only leave them when I must have found my husband and I don’t know when the husband will ever come".

Some like Emmanuela said she was trained as a seamstress but the promise of opening her own workshop is bleak. Others though, like Bea Anjeh, a Form IV student of GHS Buea Town, is optimistic and certain about her future as her guardians have taken her as their own daughter. To most housemaids, however, their future depends solely on their guardians.

Housemaid "Owners" React

The "owners" of the housemaids, on the other hand, say they develop the need for house helps when they bring forth babies; to enable them continue with their various jobs. Most of them who are in the public service, say managing their homes becomes difficult so they need housemaids. They say the girls are always obedient when they come but after a while, they become naughty so they are forced to act coldly towards them.

One Iya Limunga said she is forced to tell her housemaid that her stay in her house has expired due to her stubbornness. Another guardian, Mary Njie, said she tries to treat her housemaid like a daughter, but the maid keeps nursing an inferiority complex believing she is just a servant. To Lydia Obi, the thought of treating her maid as her daughter is far-fetched as she practically bought the girl from her parents for FCFA 250,000.

This ties with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHR) report on trafficking in persons in Cameroon 2009, which describes Cameroon as a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Meanwhile, the International Labour Organisation, ILO, statistics reveal that child trafficking accounts for 84 percent of child labour in Yaounde, Douala and Bamenda, most of whom are domestic servants.

Due to the fact that the Cameroon government has shown less interest in prosecuting and punishing traffickers, it has been placed on the Tier-2 watch list, consisting of countries with significantly very high or increasing victims of severe forms of trafficking.

With regard to their maltreatment, most female domestic servants wish their guardians could treat them as their own children. They also wish for an organisation to manage their welfare. They equally hope to get married and have better homes. On whether they would like to employ housemaids in future, some are sceptical while others promise to take up girls from poor homes and give them comfortable lives. 

(UB Journalism Students on Internship)

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