According to the International Labour Organization, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest incidence of child labor (59 million—more than 21 percent of the region’s children).
In West Africa hard manual labor is part of daily life. Most city families hire a domestic worker, often a young girl from a remote village.
“We see a lot of child laborers in our ministry to migrant household helpers,” says Becky, whose team has partnered with local believers to form the Hands of Honor outreach to these at-risk girls.
Poverty often is why parents send their girls into the workforce. A daughter’s earnings will provide a large portion of the family’s income.
No Better Than Slaves
Hands of Honor staff members have observed a majority of domestic helpers, sometimes as young as 11, arrive in their city under fraudulent circumstances.
“The girls are promised a decent wage and a fair work environment, but they end up in homes where they are exploited, treated no better than slaves in some cases,” Becky observes. “They eat only if there is food left over once everyone else has eaten. They are over-worked, with no days off, and they are beaten or verbally abused if they do something wrong.”
When it’s time to be paid, the girls are told they were lazy or that they chipped a dish or dulled a knife, and they aren’t given the money due them. They are young, naïve to the dangers of living in a big city, and easily seduced.
“Many end up pregnant and are turned out by their families because of the shame they have caused,” Becky adds. “In desperation, they abandon or murder their newborns.”
Hands of Honor
Hands of Honor provides training to these girls in three areas—literacy, health, and life/job skills. Several classes focus on the skill sets needed to be good household helpers.
“Our local staff members feel it’s important for the girls to understand their employers’ expectations and for the employers to see the value of allowing their girls time off each month to participate in the trainings,” Becky adds.
Also, the team offers classes on how to make local products (soap, body lotion, peanut butter) so the girls can make these items for themselves and sell extras to earn some additional income. Each day of class, they also hear an oral Bible story, after which they break into smaller groups with staff members to talk about the story and pray together.
“I admit,” says Becky, “sometimes our work seems hopeless. What chances for a decent future do our girls have—illiterate, with no job skills, of seemingly little worth to their families, often living with the consequences of choices they made in desperation?”
It’s on the hard days, she says, that she reminds herself of Batoma. “On a day when the monthly health class hadn’t started yet, the girls were sitting around giggling and chatting like teenaged girls do everywhere. A new girl had shown up, and Batoma, one of our regulars, was telling her about our center,” Becky recalls.
A Bold Decision
“I overheard Batoma say, ‘They’ll learn your name in this place—they’ll learn your name in this place.’ All of a sudden, I understood what our girls wanted most—to be loved, to have enough worth that someone will learn their name.
“Our training and advocacy work are important, but the girls desperately need to grasp how wide and long and how high and deep is the love of Christ for them!”
It came as no surprise to the team when several months later, while teaching from John 10 about the love of the Good Shepherd, Batoma made the bold decision to leave the majority religion of West Africa and become a follower of Jesus. “She had found the perfect source of love,” Becky says.
Pray for victory in the spiritual battle involved in the Hands of Honor outreach. Pray also that many more of these young girls being served will find the perfect love and freedom found only in Christ.