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Rights group alarmed over Morocco's underage maids

Associated Press Published: November 15, 2012

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco has made progress in reducing the number of girls working as domestic servants but much more needs to be done, Human Rights Watch reported Thursday.

Tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are still working as domestic servants in Morocco, and they are subject to abuse and poor conditions and have no legal protection, the group said. However, its research says their number is less than seven years ago, due to efforts to raise awareness and enforce labor laws.

"The government says the amount of child labor has declined and school enrollments have increased," said Jo Becker, the group's child advocacy coordinator. "Our sources tell us that the number of child domestic workers in Morocco has declined but it is important to note that no one knows the total number of domestic workers."

The U.S.-based rights group was following up on its 2005 study that found some 86,000 girls under 15 were working as maids in violation of Moroccan and international law. While the new report said the situation in this North African kingdom of 32 million had improved, the phenomenon of child labor was still widespread.

"Child domestic labor is a serious problem and girls continue to face exploitation and severe abuse," added Becker. "Because these girls work in private homes, they are hidden from public view and it means they are more vulnerable to physical abuse and less likely to get help."

Labor inspectors charged with enforcing Moroccan law are not permitted to inspect personal homes. So while the government has released figures showing a dramatic drop in all forms of child labor from 517,000 in 1999 to 123,000 in 2011, it is not clear if that includes domestic workers.

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