Two weeks ago, there was not a single dry eye in most living rooms in Kenya as a man sobbed openly while narrating how a househelp had murdered his wife and child in cold blood.
Jackie Auma (househelp) burnt her employer, Elizabeth Achieng with a hot iron box after stabbing her several times and strangling her. She then strangled Master Leon Benedict Okoth who was only three months old. His mother had just resumed work after the mandatory three months leave. The househelp was arrested in Uganda and transferred to Kenya where she is expected to face the full force of the law.
In another incident on March 2018, a 35-year-old house help was captured on camera assaulting and feeding vomits to a 15 months old baby. Ms. Cecile Murugi Ngubo was arraigned at Makadara Law Courts to face the charge of subjecting cruel punishment to a child. She mistreated the child at Ngara estate in Nairobi on the 14th March at about 13:00hours.
According to the baby’s mother, she thought it wise to install a CCTV camera to monitor her house and on the day, she decided to review it. The police who viewed the CCTV camera said it captured the househelp pinching the child and using the rug meant for the floor to wipe the face of the child.
The accused denied the charges against her, claiming she is the sole breadwinner and has three children to take care of, thus the court ought to be lenient on her. The case is still pending in court.
Those are just two of the cases that happened this year and we are just six months into the year. When you visit online platforms hardly a day goes by without a woman complaining about a househelp who has mistreated yet another child, made away with household goods, and sexually molested a child or breastfed a child despite being fully aware of their HIV status.
It is against this backdrop that a concerned woman launched Find Real Me Ltd, a background check company specifically for domestic workers.
According to the founder, Ms. Grace Machuki Masereti, with the databases, employers can register rogue/unprofessional domestic workers. They also verify prospective/current domestic workers criminal history and professional reference.
Ms. Masereti started the platform in 2015 after realising that there was a need for a safer household. She cites recent reports, which have stated that househelps are largely used by criminal cartels to commit crimes in households.
According to Grace, six households get terrorised by the same househelp with no one any wiser. Sometimes these six employers come from the same estate or city. These are the loopholes the company is determined to fill.
“I may not point on one particular case though of course there are those cases that shattered my heart to pieces. Sadly, there was and still is that perception that when employers report rogue domestic workers to the police, often no action is taken. Because of that, there lacks accountability among domestic workers as they go on a crime spree,” said Masereti
“Our objectives include promoting a culture of domestic workers background checks and also reduce the cycle of rogue domestic workers in households. These services are currently free. We also have a legal department that handles employment law matters. This service is charged depending on the nature of the case,” she said
While Find Real Me started in 2015, it has data that goes way back. The oldest data available is from 2006 as they have tried to retrieve cases from Kenya law reports and from print/electronic media.
The firm has five employees, two legal persons, two researchers/field experts and the founder. They all volunteer. While they don’t charge for background checks currently, they do charge for legal services.
“Our reference database is dedicated to providing previous employers contacts. Professional strengths and weaknesses are a crucial part of pre-employment screening. This database aims to cancels the common excuse that a previous employer died or travelled abroad,” said Masereti
The background checking firm also registers domestic workers with their current employers to create a reference database, whose purpose is to provide employers with professional reference.
“I pray we come to a point where we understand we are responsible for our household’s safety. That begins with every employer prioritising background checks and making rogue domestic help accountable. I pray that we understand our silence on rogue domestic workers is so loud. Our wish is for employers to be accountable for their own security. 100 per cent security is an unrealistic achievement but we can do much better from our current standing,” said Grace
To use the services on the platform, an employer can fill the e-form on www.findrealme.co.ke, or send a message on the company’s Facebook page or call +254720560615. You can visit the firm physically at International House, 1st Floor Room 18 as well.
It is, however, not lost on the firm that looking for new help is usually a matter of urgency for most parents and it is important that they get a response to their inquiries as fast as possible. The number of requests they have on a particular day and the time you made the request will determine the speed with which you get your response.
“It’s much faster during working hours than at night but we rarely exceed 12 hours. For us to carry background checks from our database, we insist on the employer to carry out identity authenticity. Without a proper identity authenticity, the whole background check becomes inefficient,” said Masereti
So far, FindRealMe Kenya has served countless families and its database entails 1, 968 registrations and the number continues to grow.
Kenya had an estimated two million househelps in 2011 and one can only imagine that by now the number has increased. Going by the registered numbers of househelps, that is just a drop in the ocean, meaning that Kenyan parents need to register the househelps in their homes.
“Our greatest challenge has been convincing employers the buck really stops with them. Many employers assume their responsibility ends by dismissing the rogue domestic worker. They forget they are a victim of another employer who comes from their school of thought. Sexual abuse is one of those crimes employers would rather sweep under the carpet because of associated stigma and the fear of a long court process,” said Masereti
“The system is a challenge in itself. When employers report crimes by domestic workers to the police, they get little or no help. The court process is sometimes a problem. I remember a sexual abuse case by a caregiver in a creche took a traumatising five years to be finalised. A turn off to other employers who would like to pursue legal options,” she added
Masereti adds that another challenge is domestic workers who are not keen on their rights due to lack of knowledge or sheer ignorance. For us to achieve our vision for “safer households” there must be impartiality. Humanly speaking, if an employer physically and emotionally abuses a domestic worker, who knows there are laws to protect him/her, you expect that domestic worker to hit back in not so pleasing ways.
One of the greatest achievements of the firm is being in existence today, despite offering free services yet they have bills to pay, an office and employees to pay. The many instances when they have had to alert a prospective employer that a domestic help is registered in their databases for unprofessionalism or other crimes are counted among their achievements as well. Certainly stopping the cycle of crime and saving a home that would otherwise fall victim to crime is elating to the personnel of the firm.
“The people who believe in our cause are also our achievers. In particular, last year, we had a Facebook member who gave crucial information of a nanny who had murdered an employee’s child and had gone into hiding. If we all followed suit and exposed these criminal househelps who commit crimes and hide in our neighborhoods, we believe households will be much safer,” said Masereti
At the moment Find Real Me does not do placements but they are included in their future plans.