The footage of the maid brutalizing a toddler that burnt up social media last week, brought the statistics about child abuse alive in a way that no amount of words could.
"In effect, every body who watched the footage was as if a real witness to the fact. Not evidence of bruising or the sanitized narration of NGO speak, but the real time battering of a defenseless toddler entered our space with such force as to shift attention from Cranes latest failed bid for glory, nude celeb pics or the political uncertainty surrounding the ruling NRM party. And even that is to understate it....
Clearly the maid was deranged. No amount of insistence for objectivity by the lone voices on social media could justify the maid's action. Explain? Maybe. But justify? Impossible!
That being said it raised interesting questions -- if one managed to step away from the raw emotion (the maid by the way, is safer behind bars! Such was the vehemence of the common reaction to the incident), one has to wonder who we are living in charge of our children while we go off to make them a better future, a future that is not guaranteed it turns out.
How is the average house help recruited?
The recruitment of the househelp is usually the business of the lady of the house. Convenient because it is assumed that she manages the home and therefore knows who she wants and what she wants done on her behalf. The maid is often recommended by a relative, ferried in from a far flung village -- the logic being she doesn't know Kampala and so she won't get up to any hanky panky. Major qualifications seems to be that she be clean and obedient to the point of obsequesness, basically an ass kisser -- but not of the man of the house, of course. And if there are kids to be tended, she has to be "good" with kids.
And it has worked quite well for at least two generations of urban-dwelling-two-income households.
There is the odd house girl horror story, but not enough to cause a rethink of our maid hiring practices.
Last week's events meant we took a second look, a not too endearing glance, at the people we have charged with the rearing of our children.
The househelp industry is totally without regulation. What are the qualifications of a nanny beyond the intuitive judgement of her boss? What happens when a maid oversteps her bounds, before we resort to criminal prosecution? Who is going to regularise the industry?
With the exception of the terror meted out by "that maid" the employers have been the major beneficiary of this vagueness, paying these people as low as they can get away with, for a 24/7job and in many instances forcing them into "services" that are beyond the call of duty.
That being as it may, it is unlikely that these employers -- some of whom are human rights activists in their day jobs, are going to right this situation.
So it is left to the house-helps to do it themselves.
As unlikely as it sounds, the house maids of the world have to unite. To organize even if they do not agonize, or rather, even if they don't show us they are agonizing.
They need to not only lobby for and protect their rights, but also to protect their profession. One errant member like "that maid" could bring the whole profession into disrepute and mess it up for all of them.
Somebody posted on social media a tongue in cheek comment that he will not wait for video evidence, but will slap his maid on his arrival at home! Funny to the rest of us maid-employers but an attitude the sisterhood of the maids would be loath to encourage.
An organisation would lobby for suitable legislation, that would lead to better pay, better working conditions and even guarantee the quality of its members, taking away the arbitrary criteria by which maids are recruited, treated and paid.
But one can immediately see why this idea is dead on arrival. There is the question of the capacity of maids to organize themselves. Secondly, it is unlikely the the beneficiaries of this inexpensive and uncoordinated pool of labour would allow them.
It's like they say, everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.
If you think about it our children are with these ladies twice as long as their parents or even worse.
"The trend of the working mother is irreversible, unless of course bad house maids are banned and quality help is too expensive, like it is for our relatives abroad. So it would make sense that the issue of regularising the maid industry is looked into more seriously, never mind the discomfort it may cause us in the short term...
But what the hell! Let us just lynch the maid and the next one and the next.... It's much easier that to ask the tough questions.