Nowadays, many households have domestic workers that spend more time with the children than parents do. This is because some of the parents have to go out to work. But in some homes, the kids are not treated right by the house staff. ‘Lifextra’ finds out why and discusses the intricacy of making a house-help helpful.
The rate of crime committed by domestic staff has been on the rise over the years. In recent times, the media have been awash with house-helps taking children away and demanding for millions of naira to return them. And many reasons have been adduced for this. Recent and frequent scandals involving housemaids have made madams all over Nigeria to consider whether or not these domestic staffers are needed.
Early this year, a video concerning the maltreatment of a child by a housemaid in Uganda went viral. In the clip, the maid was seen stepping on the child whom she had flung to the ground because the kid refused to eat her food. The child was beaten on all parts of her body. When asked by the authorities what prompted her into such an act, she attributed it to how she was maltreated by the child’s parents. In other words, she was visiting the ‘cruelty’ of her madam on her madam’s innocent child.
And in one of the South-western states of Nigeria, there was a case of a housemaid who absconded with the three kids of her mistress a day after she was employed and demanded a heavy amount of money as ransom.
These are just some of the scenarios on so many home-fronts today. Many hold the opinion, however, that no matter how much the society complains about them, domestic staff serve as a useful addition to families who can afford their services.
Agnes John, a 25-year-old undergraduate, stated that whatever domestic staffers do, they should not be blamed because it is the way they are treated by the parents that employ them. “They merely transfer the aggression of their madams to the children,” Agnes says.
Speaking on the case of the Ugandan video that went viral, she said: “I don’t think that maid would do what she did to that child if the parents of the child treated her fairly. But since she couldn’t vent her feelings on the parents, she decided to turn on the child, although it was wrong.”
Blessing Ede, a 23-year-old pharmacy undergraduate who also commented on the video, described it as a situation of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons.
“The maid was simply on a revenge mission. That was her own way of protesting the maltreatment meted out to her by the parents of the child,” she asserted.
Fatima Ahmed, a housewife in her late 40s, said: “Good housemaids get employed by bad madams and bad housemaids end up with good madams. In the end, it’s a matter of good luck to have a good working relationship with a housemaid.”
In the past, a good number of Nigerian households employed these domestic staffers from their villages or hometowns. This meant that some of them were close or distant relatives. But the story has changed now as some Nigerian families choose not to employ house-helps because of some of these reasons. However some families, especially those with young children, find that they cannot cope without extra help, as such help lightens the load for couples or in particular, the ‘madam of the house’.
Calista Nwankwo, a civil servant in her mid-thirties belongs to this second school of thought. She said: “I have three kids and I have always been skeptical about having domestic staffs, especially with the recent trend where some of them molest, abuse or even harm the kids in your absence. But I had to get one when the pressure from work became too much and I became unable to bear the responsibility of giving my kids the moral support they need.”
She said she had to devise an intricate way to save her children from unhelpful treatment, explaining that: “I developed a means of relating with my domestic staff so that she would treat my kids well. I had to treat her right while being careful not to establish over-familiarity with her.”
Nwankwo added that she buys clothes for her once in a while and gives her some little ‘tips’ when necessary and “this has made her draw close to me. It has also helped me to know what she can do and what she cannot do, as it has given me the opportunity to know more about her. So far it has worked for me and I can categorically say that she takes care of my home and kids properly when I am not around.”
For Akpan Esther, a student in her mid-twenties, house-helps are not a must-have. “As a child, I grew up not knowing or having any house-help in our house. So the idea of having one never crosses my mind at all,” she stated.
Esther however added that: “If along the line there is need for a house- help, I will give her the most deserving treatment because she is human and whether we like it or not, if a house-help chooses to rebel, it will be very easy because she has all the weapons to fight you.”
Written by Eseohe Ebhota & Prisca Emadu