In Morocco, a renewed hope for former child domestic workers

Changing laws and attitudes to protect children like Ghizlan

This is a true story.

She is like a ghost in the house. She moves slowly, tiptoeing over cold, stone floors. It’s 5 a.m. and the morning prayer has just sounded. She remembers when she used to smile as soon as she heard the melismatic singing. Now, she lowers her gaze to the pot of hot water on the stove, her mind stuck, all her days on repeat. Fresh mint in the garden, bursting bookshelves, backpacks by the door - none of it hers. “Ghizlan!” the children call from their bedrooms. And she floats away.


Ghizlan’s story

Who is Ghizlan?

"The problem was my job.
There is no positive memory of that time of my life."

Ghizlan Al-Rakik, now 17, was born and raised in the northern city of Kenitra, Morocco. She attended primary school, just like all her friends. But, when she turned 12, her parents began to struggle financially.

So Ghizlan offered to work to make ends meet.

One day, during summer vacation, a wealthy family asked her mother if they could take Ghizlan to their home to help them around the house. In return, the wealthy family offered to pay for Ghizlan to continue her studies.

"But when I went, I found another reality," she said. "I faced a lot of difficulties that I can’t easily talk about."

What was it like?

Ghizlan moved into their home and stayed there for two years.
She never felt comfortable.

"They treated me like a person who is savage, not as a human being, not of their social class," she said. "They wouldn’t let me go to school."

Her days looked like this:
Wake up at 5 a.m. Make breakfast for the kids. Wake them up to take a shower and get ready to go to school. Prepare breakfast for the parents before they leave for work. Spend the rest of the morning cleaning the house, preparing lunch, and cleaning up after lunch. Same thing for dinner. Go to sleep around 11, after cleaning the dinner dishes.

"At my age, I should have been in school. When I watched their children leave for school, I felt very sad. I really wanted to go to school."

What are Petites-Bonnes?

In Morocco, there is a tradition of petites-bonnes (live-in home help) and child domestic workers.

But this tradition is on its way out.

In recent years, Morocco has made significant achievements in the fight against child labour, especially with regards to domestic work among girls. And there has been a decrease in child labour overall.

Committing to real change

How did Morocco do it?

In brief, Morocco took a number of important steps:

  • Established a strong legal framework aligned with international labour standards
  • Implemented programmes and projects to counter child labour nationally and locally
  • Set up an annual national ministerial budget to fund national NGOs fighting against child labour
  • Partnered with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and USDOL (USDOL) and other donors, on projects that sought to remove children from child labour
  • Signed up to be an Alliance 8.7 Pathfinder Country
  • Pledged to increase the national budget for tackling child labour in the framework of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour

Expanding on the last point, in 2019, Morocco joined the MAP 16 project funded by USDOL. From 2019 to 2021, the MAP 16 project fought against child labour in domestic work and hazardous work at the national level and in the areas of Rabat/Salé, Marrakech/Safi and Kénitra/Gharb.

School dropout is the number one predictor of child labour in Morocco. Responding to this reality, the MAP 16 project created action programmes in Morocco and partnered with local NGOs to implement them. These initiatives included:

  • In-person and virtual child labour awareness-raising training for 4,000 families
  • Built the capacities of 34 community-based organizations to improve their child welfare projects
  • Referred more than 900 children at risk of child labour to tutoring and other support services
  • Identified 150 older girls and referred them to counselling and vocational orientation programmes

The country’s collaboration with the ILO and USDOL proved fortuitous, and led to a sense of national ownership of the problem. NGOs, social partners, and even the Prime Minister took up the issue with renewed vigor.

Morocco’s Law 19-12 is a success story. First proposed in 2002, and strengthened by the MAP 16 project partnership, today it protects all domestic workers by:

  • Granting them the right to a legal contract
  • Establishing a maximum number of working hours per day
  • Setting a minimum age of 18 for all domestic workers

The law extends these labour rights, specifically, to live-in domestic workers. It specifically combats the culture of petites-bonnes - young girls that live with their employers, carrying out domestic tasks all day every day, completely cut off from the outside world.

As part of the MAP 16 project, Morocco has also helped raise awareness about the law itself, through communication and advocacy efforts. For example, it developed audiovisual materials to support the ministry’s push to rally people around the law. It has also organized knowledge-sharing workshops with other countries facing the same issue.

Who are the change makers?

Some stakeholders are taking extra steps targeted towards this specific type of child labour.

For example, the Mohammedia Moroccan Scouting Organization (OSMM) is an organization that provides opportunities for child development and economic growth. It is based in the northern city of Kenitra.

Its goal? Locate children in child labour and remove them from those situations, and then facilitate their return to school or training.

Mohammed Tabyaoui, the president of OSMM, was drawn to this line of work because he had gone through a scouting school himself. It was, he says, the logical next step.

"As a scout, I believe that the social sphere is linked to children, and our children are the future of the country," he said.

"That’s why we need to work with the most vulnerable group, children in child labour, who cannot study in educational institutions and who go to work at an early age."


What are they doing to help?

Mr. Tabyaoui in a meeting with his team.
Mr. Tabyaoui in a meeting with his team.

"I have met children in very difficult situations," Tabyaoui said. "I have seen 13-year-olds dressed up as adults, working in homes, fields, and shops."

OSMM has been working with the ILO since 2004, when the ILO launched the IPEC Morocco programme with support from France and USDOL. Stakeholders at multiple levels have successfully taken children out of child labour and provided opportunities for training, leading to decent jobs.

Today, OSMM supports education for children as young as 6 up to the age of 17. Its "second chance" programme allows children who were in child labour to return to schooling or training. The scouts make sure that they’re ready to re-enter the job market after they turn 18. "Children are in dire need of care, tenderness, education, and a place to tell their stories," Tabyaoui said.

“At the same time, we must cooperate with them to understand what they need when it comes to entertainment, activities, and educational, psychological, and social support.”

With the help of civil society organizations and local government representatives, OSMM also promotes Law 19-12 through sensitization and awareness raising activities for workers, families, and individuals.

“I love my professional work,” Tabyaoui said. “I have found comfort in this organization, I have found the future. I have found, in OSMM, everything that contributes to the development of youth in Morocco.”

Did Covid-19 affect child labour in Morocco?

Just as Law 19-12 came into effect and as child labour in domestic work was declining, the global pandemic hit Morocco. The government enforced a nationwide lockdown, shutting schools and causing vulnerable children to drop out indefinitely. Suddenly, kids needed online tools to keep learning.

Girls, in particular, were at risk of returning to child labour in the homes of their former employers, due to the general economic downturn.

That’s why the MAP 16 project actively reached out to local communities and the families of at-risk children within the project’s target areas, aiming to ensure their safety, protection, and continued education.

Working closely with partners, the MAP 16 project pivoted its strategies to include the use of remote and online tools. Soon, its programming included raising awareness about COVID-19, as well as distance learning and training support for hundreds of children.

Specifically, OSMM supported distance learning by ensuring that its beneficiaries had access to online learning tools. It then made all of its programming available online, including art contests and online gaming for children.

Further, OSMM took steps to stay in touch with beneficiaries, communicating with children and their families through phone calls and video chats on a daily basis. The NGO added new activities to its programming, including awareness raising around symptoms, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19, the distribution of hygiene products and protective masks.

These modifications meant that the approach and implementation of the project took on a new form, but the objectives and results remained the same.

What happened to Ghizlan?

“One of the most uplifting stories is that of a girl who was working for a wealthy family,” Tabyaoui said. “She is one of many others who have completed vocational training or are integrated back into school.”

Today, Ghizlan is in high school. She received educational support from OSMM, which covered her tuition fees and provided a safe space to study and learn. She passed the certification exam and earned a diploma in textile dyeing and decoration.

Ghizlan with her friends in the library of the Training and Integration Center for Youth.
Ghizlan with her friends in the library of the Training and Integration Center for Youth.

“I feel so much better. I’m living like any girl my age. OSMM gave me the ability to dream again, so I could achieve my goals.”

During her time as a “petite-bonne”, Ghizlan’s desire to help her family through the difficult times kept her going. Now, finally, she is looking toward her own bright future.

That bright future is one made possible with help from stakeholders including the ILO, USDOL, and NGOs like OSMM.

“My wish is that we find children at school, not in the labour market,” said Tabyaoui. “I want to see them in training centres, with diplomas, growing up and creating their own small businesses. Everyone deserves to live a decent life, and no child deserves to be in child labour.”

Ghizlan is studying with her friend in her house.
Ghizlan is studying with her friend in her house.