Many women in Kenya & Uganda are still recovering from watching that horrifying video of a Nanny in Uganda who meted all forms of violence on a year old toddler, all the the while, unaware that her employers had installed a Nanny Cam which recorded everything. The video was then uploaded onto Youtube then shared on all other forums including whatsapp.
I refused to watch the video which was shared to me via whatsapp a few days prior to it being the subject of a news story on Kenya’s local TV stations. It has since become the subject of discussions on many Kenyan radio stations since. Many parents, myself included, have started seriously questioning if we really know our house helps and also wondering,
What drove her to do such a despicable thing on such an innocent harmless child?
As mothers, we have all heard stories of house helps that either choked, burnt or killed a child left under their care, either un-intentionally due to a serious accident or intentionally as a way of getting back at her employers for gross mis-treatment and lack of dignity to her as a human being.
Our neighbour’s 3 year old daughter still sustains burn marks that are as a result of a ‘jumpy’ house help who left hot water on a basin with a crawling toddler, as she went to get a towel. Despite it being an accident, she ran away leaving the child wailing with some 60 degree burns. The neighbours are the ones who administered first aid as they called the child’s mother from her place of work.
The many mothers I have spoken to ever since the video went viral have either decided to fire their current helps or install a Nanny Cam. However, I believe that, installing a Nanny Cam is not the solution as you will only be able to view it AFTER the atrocities on your child have been carried out. There is a better way of ensuring that the Nanny Cam is not all that gives you a peace of mind with your child. Here are some of the preventive measures, we as parents need to put in place over and above installing a Nanny Cam.
1. Quality Time
The whole reason why we get house helps is because we have to work and therefore need someone to look after our kids as/when we are not available. However, when we do get the time to spend with our kids, it important to spend quality time with them as well as taking over control of our house. Yes, sometimes days can be crazy and all one wants to do is put up their feet and let the house help take care of everything but by taking over the feeding, bathing of your kids as well as putting them to sleep establishes and maintains a bond and the clear distinction to the child on what your role as a parent is and that of the house help. That way if they are of speaking age, they will be able to tell you everything as well as enable you make observations on any form of abuse e.g bodily harm or drastic change in behaviour.
House helps are human beings that deserve to be treated with dignity. Many employers forget this and mistreat their house helps yet they are leaving their own flesh and blood to be taken care of by this same house help they called useless before leaving for work. I have heard of cases where house helps eat food remains, are not allowed to eat the same food they cook for the family, or are given their own plastic dishes and made to sleep on cold floors with no off days. Verbal abuse is also another thing that many house helps are subjected to, most of which is usually un-warranted with many employers treating them like kids who need to be talked down to.
I have come to learn that one needs to use a lot of diplomacy with house helps especially in instances where they have wronged and they are aware of it. Most employers become condescending when rebuking their house helps with most not even giving the help a chance to explain their actions. In most cases of abuse meted on children by house helps, the house helps are usually revenging due to actions resulting to lack of dignity shown to them by their employers.
3. Their rights
We wrote a lengthy article on the plight of Domestic workers in Kenya a while back. Due to lack of proper legislation in Kenya and in many developing countries unlike in the west, most house helps are not aware of what their rights are or what they are entitled to when in employment.
Although according to The Kenya Union of Domestic Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA)- which is the only available union for domestic workers to join. House helps are entitled to at least 1 day of rest every week. Many employers do not allow their helps to take their off days on Sundays. This creates resentment to work for many house helps who only persevere due to lack of alternatives. Upon finding another job, some decide to ‘teach their employer a lesson’ .
Just like in a relationship or marriage, communication between a Nanny and her employer is really important. Its not enough to reduce this to just issuing commands by the employer. It helps to know your help a bit better beyond all her names and where she comes from. Engage her on what made her become a Nanny, what aspirations she has in life etc. This however, does not mean blurring the lines from employer to best buddies (although this has been known to happen in cases where a family keeps a Nanny for almost 10 years). It is possible to open the lines of communication with her whilst still maintaining mutual respect and without her undermining your authority due to your being too cosy/casual with her.
5. Mutual Respect
A Nanny plays a very important role in a household, something that is usually easily dismissed or taken for granted. Just like any human being, house helps love it when their work is appreciated despite it being quite routine. Many of us parents do not appreciate how trying it is to one’s patience to stay a whole day with screaming, crying, demanding kids who are in constant need of attention. By respecting the value that house helps add to our lives, we are able to appreciate their work and dedication to bringing up our most prized possession- our children.
Even as we fell that we need to monitor our house helps’ every move in the house, its more important to ensure that the kind of human beings left with our kids are ones who would never intentionally hurt them or be driven to.