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Date: 1 Jul 2015 — 31 Jul 2015 | Venue:


Preventing the abuse of domestic workers

The abuses presented here are only a snapshot from a greater reality. Much has been left out.

The domestic workers photographed are young and old, educated and illiterate. Some were abused in their own countries while others were employed elsewhere in Asia or in the Gulf States. What links them is poverty, limited choices and a lack of the protection mechanisms that most workers take for granted.

Their abusers also varied – rich and middle-income, male and female, families and individuals.

The cases represented here are not isolated incidents. Steve McCurry and Karen Emmons photographed and recorded interviews in four Asian locations – Hong Kong, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines. They found physical, mental and verbal abuse, child labour, forced labour, trafficking, rape, imprisonment, starvation, unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and communication.

Much of the chronicling of domestic worker abuse focuses on statistics. One of the purposes of this project is to highlight the human side of what happens, to show in an unequivocal manner the nature of the abuses that are taking place behind closed doors, and the effects on minds, bodies and entire lives.

The International Labour Organization estimates there are more than 52 million domestic workers world-wide, more than 21 million of whom are in Asia and the Pacific. These workers make a valuable contribution to the economic development and social well-being of almost every country in the world. Yet a lack of legal protection allows them to be treated as property, rather than as individuals. More can – and must – be done to protect them.

In 2011 a new ILO Convention specifically covering the rights of domestic workers came into force. Thus far it has been ratified by fewer than 20 countries – just one (the Philippines) in the Asia–Pacific region and none in the Gulf or Middle East. Convention No. 189 is important, not just because it obliges governments to bring their national laws and enforcement systems into line, but also because it sends a message to societies that domestic workers have rights as other workers do.

No longer should anyone work the way the women in these photos have worked.

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