Tunisia: Economic exploitation of young girls: the dream of life between two sharp bows: family and brokers


Sharaz Al Rahali – Member of Arab Trade Union Media Network


Tunisia - "Sometimes I have to accompany her to her relative’s homes during family occasions in summer times to help with the cleaning, sometimes she sends me alone to their homes also to help them in housework"

“I do as she tells me, whether in her home or in the house of her relatives when they have an occasion and I cannot go back to my parent’s house" with these words, Kinza, 17 years old, tells her story, her name means treasure but she does not feel that her fate matches the meaning of her name.

Kniza works as a sleep- in domestic worker for a family of 6 members, she earns 350 Tunisian Dinars (153 US dollars a month). She had to enter the labour market early to support her family, burying her dreams of a life inside the valleys of her village.   

Kniza was able to get this work by one of her acquaintances, who also works in another house, her parents did not oppose sending her to work they didn’t even bothering to check the conditions under which their child will work.

Vacancies without requirements

Domestic work ads start as follows: a family is looking for a domestic worker (sometimes says sleep – in domestic worker and sometimes they do not mention this) with salaries that seem attractive to the ads writer because he knows very well to whom he directs his announcement, salaries say up to 450 Tunisian dinars (197 US dollars) and without specifying the age. The brokers begin to search for girls from poor and uneducated families as it is fragile grounds that accept such conditions.

The story of these girls’ life begins and ends the same as what “A” has been through. She spent more than 15 years working as a domestic worker but when she got sick, she returned to her parent’s house without social security or health insurance, however, her suffering did not end here she had to work in a farm which was not less merciful than her previous work. She was afraid to talk but the looks of her eyes revealed everything.

Brokers have also become recruiting companies, as we notice this ad “domestic worker is needed immediately to work for a prominent and well-known Tunisian families on daily, monthly or sleep-in basis, cleaning workers are also required to work in private companies, salaries range between 250 and 350 d (109 and 153 US dollars) please contact the company's headquarters.” By following such ads we could notice that there are no age requirements?

There are departments for the protection of children in all governorates across the country, but Mohsen Dabousi from Jendouba governorate associations network confirms the spread of the phenomenon there, "Among the major problems and causes of employing young girls phenomenon is the early school dropout and poverty help parents push their daughters to work at an early age" he says. We provide livelihood to families to eliminate the need for their daughters to work. Livelihoods are mainly sheep breeding, opportunities were also provided for those who mastered the confectionery industry. We hope that authorities would create and develop rural girls' centers because it may support our efforts” he adds.

Manhajya an activists from Ghardimaou area  confirms that girls who work in farms are exposed to stress due to the nature of their work they often faint and get sick, however they are only paid a daily wage of 10 Tunisian Dinars (US $ 4.3) and always without guarantees.the activists also confirms that in other ares The efforts of some civil society activists to call mothers often to raise awareness of what girls can take risks when they are employed at an early age of the country brokers are always looking for girls to work as domestic worker. Some civil society activists are joining efforts to raise awareness among mothers of what girls can take risks when they are employed at an early age.

Child protection departments rely on the reporting mechanism to act on a case-by-case basis. In a report on the situation of childhood in Tunisia in 2016, about 1,0057 cases were recorded, an increase of about 15% compared to 2015, child protection delegates received  6999 cases, of which 29.5% were characterized by parental or childcare disability. The child abuse for begging and economic exploitation were 62 cases at the national level and were monitored only in 14 governorates. Tunisia topped the list with 30.6% of total cases through 19 cases.

Al-Zein, a civil society activist, warns that concerned departments have failed with child protection in terms of creating mechanisms to help parents stop sending their daughters to labour markets. Confirming that they monitored daily early school dropouts.

Specific areas for domestic workers

The Children's commission in Beja Governorate confirms the phenomenon without having official data to rely on reporting. As long as it does not receive a report on the existence of abuse, the responsible department for child protection moves and undertakes its efforts to diagnose the situation and carry out the necessary measures.

Hadia Jbara said that when the child is being economically exploited, the commission takes action to return the child to the school in 24 hours. If the matter is not carried out, the public prosecutor get informed.. “We are aware that there are networks of brokers in the areas of Jendouba, Fernana and other areas, but we do not have any reliable access to informations about them” she says. Phenomenon is wide spread only need to be confirmed,” she adds.

Boubaker Ben Abbas from the Child Protection Office in Kasserine province confirms that in his administration girls are not exposed to employment and says it is isolated cases not a phenomenon, but confirms that children do work in the agricultural sector and in other labour markets, as he received few cases. “"We are trying to provide vocational training to children, for the province of Kasserine, the representatives of child protection face many problems like the lack of transport means and lack of psychologists, this is why we choose the preventive awareness aspect with the emphasis that it becomes more difficult when the family is not coherent. About 90% of childhood threats are due to family disintegration,” he adds. The Department of Child Protection in Kasserine governorate receives 700 child violations per year, usually the mother reports the case.

We went ot the most controversial provinces that oeganize weekly market every Friday, selling young girls, however some components of civil society denied  the existence of such markets.

Shaima Jendoubi who works for the Office of Protection of Children in Jendouba province confirms that the figures published do not reflect the reality due to difficulties in follow-up, Despite the tendency to alert and raise awareness among parents, but the state does not have mechanisms to ban them from sending children to work and even if the girl returned to study, no one can  follow up due to lack of human resources and because family do not realy want their daughters to study.

Hoda Aboudi, head of the office Child Protection Commissioner  in EL Kef, also stresses that the economic exploitation may be ignored and the role of the administration in this regard is to raise awareness and organize workshops for officials and mayor in the event of a girl dropedout of school or did not show up in her home for days. “Of the 8 cases of intimidation under chapter 20 of the Tunisian Child Rights magazine, which are carried out by child protection departments, there is economic exploitation and involvement of children in organized criminal acts, which are the two cases where we do no receive any complaints about,” she says.

Mounira Hammami, member of the governing body of the Tunisian Women's Association for Research on Development and domestic worker aids, added that their struggle aims towards ensuring more rights and providing social coverage rights and setting a minimum age for them.

Temporary Employment Agencies

With monthly or annual contributions, some random offices may provide jobs according to the conditions of the job applicant and according to the level of education, they contact the applicants via phone calls or  messages, to informed them about available vacancies.

The General Union of Occupations and Services which works under the umbrella of the Tunisian General Union of Labor, affirms that all private employment offices are not legal and unrecognized, as they exploite vulnerable groups. According to official data, the poverty rate in Tunisia for the year 2015 reached 15.2% and the highest rate in the Western Region is estimated at 42.3%.

Civil society and official departments of the state does not deny the existence of economic exploitation, but it takes more courage to address the issue, the Minister of Women and Childhood dared to talk about a weekly market that sells girls. as long as  no one speak up about this file, it would be impossible to predict the recorded violations.


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