Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a recent report titled “Lonely Servitude: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco,” published in November 15th, 2012, wrote that the data it compiled between April and August of 2012 suggests the number of child domestic workers has decreased since 2005. It is difficult to take such a suggestion seriously when HRW recognizes within its report that no “accurate statistics regarding the number of children working as domestic workers in Morocco” currently exist.
HRW’s research consisted of two field visits during which 20 former child domestic workers were interviewed in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakesh, and Imintanoute. Its researchers also met with numerous officials from various ministries and representatives from local NGOs. I value HRW’s efforts, wholeheartedly support its mission and understand the difficulties faced by its researchers, the obstructions erected before them by the Moroccan government, but it is preposterous to publish a paper on such paltry amount of credible data. For the sake of comparison, a recent study on domestic workers in the U.S. conducted by Nik Theodore, an associate professor of urban policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Linda Burnham, research director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, interviewed 2,086 workers in 14 cities.
The last comprehensive survey on child domestic labor in Morocco was conducted by the Norwegian based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science in 2001; it estimated the number of child domestic laborers to be between 66,000 and 86,000 nationally. Despite the lack of solid data from reputed independent organizations, the Moroccan government claims to have made significant progress, through judicial and administrative remedies and educational programs, in curtailing all forms of child labor. As evidentiary source, it presents highly dubious surveys from the Moroccan High Commission for Planning showing that as of 2011, the number of children between the ages of 8 and 15 engaged in labor is 123,000, down from 517,000 in 1999.
We expect the government’s proclivity for exaggeration and prevarication to obfuscate its perennially inadequate performance. Benkirane’s administration has been bobbing and weaving since the day they took over. His ministers have come to realize they are not abrogators, but rather the window dressing of a constitution that is, even in the view of the King’s first cousin, frozen. Previous administrations failed because they lacked the political will to eradicate the country’s deep social malaises. The financial aid program sponsored by the Ministry of Education by means of which qualified poor rural families receive $7 – $16 per child attending school is fraught with embezzlement allegations and corruption. The Child Protection Units and Child Labor Units designed to enforce labor laws prohibiting the employment of children under 15 are poorly trained and equipped and utterly inadequate. One would think that the welfare of children would be a top priority for Moroccan government officials and the King; a draft law the government announced in 2006 has yet to be presented to the parliament. Not only are the laws hardly enforced, but they are extremely lenient; the murderer of a twelve year old maid was sentenced to less than ten years earlier this year; the rapist of a handicapped minor received a five year jail sentence. A 20 February movement advocate demonstrating against corruption gets three years.
123,000 is a tragic number and should be a trigger to a nation-wide outrage, a cause to start a government sanctioned citizen-led abolitionist movement by national consensus. The fact is that the Moroccan society embraces the wrongheaded belief that it is the government’s responsibility to fix all its woes. Child labor is only one of many grim emblems of a society suffused with ethical obtuseness. When Amina Elfilali, 16 years of age, committed suicide because she was forced to marry the man who raped her, many advocacy groups organized demonstrations to call for the abrogation of Article 475 which allows a rapist to avoid jail by marrying his victim. The majority of Moroccans, however, snug in smarmy sanctimonious religiosity, promote Article 475 as a bastion of righteousness and thought Amina’s parents were absolutely correct in forcing their daughter’s hand into that matrimonial union. They argue that such a marriage would preserve her honor. “Who would want of a deflowered, never before married woman?” they ask. Moroccan single mothers are degraded and terrified; the lucky ones are embraced by minimally funded NGOs; others are forced into low-paying jobs, or even prostitution. It is a fact that the Moroccan society today is just as misogynistic as that of yore; the repudiation of unmarried women who have lost their virginity is still of startling vehemence.
There are other ominous signs that the moral fabric of the Moroccan society has disintegrated. Thousands of uneducated, malnourished, drug addicted street children roam the streets of Moroccan cities like scavenging packs of hyenas; they sleep outside cafés, in public parks and bus stations; they are often victims to sexual predators and drug dealers who intimidate them into silence; their most realistic aspiration is survival, but even that seems to be a lofty goal. They have fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they are unable to escape without the help of professionals. But first and foremost, they need a healthy environment that the Moroccan society, by its chilly indifference, refuses to provide. The Moroccan society is content to see them slip deeper into the dumps to a life of criminality, displacement, and hopelessness. From what rotten spring does this apathy flow? Only a delusional society could seriously entertain the notion that it could advance to a higher standard whilst exploiting thousands of its children as laborers and abandoning thousands more to starvation, disease, and debauchery.
Children are not the only victims of the Moroccan society’s apathy. Everybody in a position of weakness is. Four Moroccan friends of mine were recently driving in Bourgogne, Casablanca when they were T-boned by another vehicle. The force of the impact drove their car into a light pole. They were wearing their seat-belts, but the force of the impact caused them to briefly lose consciousness. A crowd quickly gathered as they often do in Morocco. They were still dazed and bloody when they were pulled out of the car and laid on the sidewalk. When they regained their situational awareness, they realized that their watches, jewelry, and wallets were gone. One of them had his shoes stolen. Their laptops, cameras, jackets and other valuables were also lifted from the car. Bystanders told them to be grateful to be alive; the rest could be replaced. In a horrific coach accident in Tizi-n-Tichka last September, the families of many of the 42 people that died that day reported their valuables stolen. Such a resigned mindset that makes it acceptable to strip possibly mortally injured accident victims denotes a level of greed and depravity and a lack of love and compassion that can never be a breeding ground of prosperity and peace.
Action against apathy and on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves, before it becomes a collective effort, is primarily the responsibility of the individual. Do random acts of kindness every day; buy a child a sandwich, clothes, a book; teach him how to read and write; fill his head with big dreams; report on those who employ underage children and volunteer with local NGOs. Until every adult citizen pulls away from the magnetic pull of “the bystander effect,” we will remain a wretched nation.
A. T. B. © 2012