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Tackling Exploitative Child Domestic Work in West Africa

BX6508 Girls with buckets balanced on their heads walk along the main street in Kakata, Liberia, West Africa.
A comprehensive assessment of child domestic work in Nigeria and Liberia to inform program design
  • Client
    U.S. Department of State
  • Dates
    2022 - Present


Child domestic work is pervasive in West Africa, but little is known about the living and working conditions of this hidden and highly vulnerable population.

Child domestic work takes many forms, ranging from kinship-based arrangements that provide educational opportunities to slavery-like conditions involving extreme abuse and exploitation. Despite the high prevalence of child domestic work in West Africa, little is known about the day-to-day living and working conditions of this hidden population. Furthermore, there is a dearth of evidence on what works in combating exploitative child domestic work in the region. To help fill these gaps, the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is investing in research and programming to reduce abuse and exploitation of child domestic workers (CDWs) in Nigeria and Liberia.


NORC is using an intervention development research lens to produce evidence-informed intervention models.

With support from the U.S. Department of State, NORC is partnering with Freedom Fund to produce evidence-informed intervention models to reduce abuse and exploitation of CDWs. Using an intervention development research (IDR) lens, the project is being rolled out in three phases:

  1. Research-driven identification of intervention models to reduce harmful conditions among CDWs
  2. Implementation of evidence-based pilot interventions
  3. Evaluation of those interventions to produce replicable, adaptable, and scalable approaches for reducing child domestic servitude

In phase one, NORC conducted a comprehensive, mixed-methods assessment of child domestic work in Nigeria and Liberia. We started with a literature review to summarize existing evidence in the local contexts, key informant interviews with stakeholders, and focus group discussions with CDWs. We followed with general population surveys with 2,176 CDWs and 1,200 employers/caregivers across urban areas of Edo and Lagos states in Nigeria, and Montserrado and Nimba counties in Liberia.

NORC drew on the localized expertise of field researchers to refine data collection tools, trained local teams to implement trauma-informed best practices given the vulnerability of the study population, and employed rigorous data quality assurance protocols and strategies. As a result, our assessment provides a representative snapshot of CDW characteristics and working conditions and their self-reported needs and priorities to inform intervention design and delivery.

In the next phases of the project, Freedom Fund will launch pilot interventions to address unmet needs of CDWs in Nigeria and Liberia. NORC will then conduct an evaluation of these pilot projects to assess progress towards social outcomes and impact, with a goal of developing replicable and scalable intervention models to promote safety, health, safeguarding, and promising opportunities for CDWs and their families.


We found significant violations of labor laws and conventions, but also nuanced relationships between child domestic workers and their employers and caregivers.

NORC’s Phase 1 findings show that while many children benefit from kinship-based domestic work arrangements, a substantial portion face rights violations according to both local and international norms. More than 90 percent of CDWs in Nigeria and Liberia are in the worst forms of child labor, according to ILO conventions, and three out of four are working in violation of national laws. The data also reveal nuances in the relationship between CDWs and their employers/caregivers, as a large number have kinship relations aligning with the common regional practice of “child fostering.”

There is general convergence between surveyed employers/caregivers and CDWs that education and training are priority needs. Policymakers and civil society actors can address barriers to full participation in education as well as expand opportunities for demand-driven, age-appropriate vocational skills training.

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Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor