January 15, 2004
Eva M., age sixteen
“When I was ten, I went to work in the first house. I would wash the dishes, make the beds . . . . I slept there. This was in San Salvador. They didn’t pay me because they left and went to their mother’s house and didn’t give me the address. I worked there for four months without being paid. I worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. In the morning I would do the cleaning and then make lunch. I took care of the three-year-old child. I would cook [and] wash clothes.”
At one of the houses where Alma S. worked, her employers would only permit her to attend school at night. “It was dangerous,” she said, because the school was far from where she worked. She left that job after twenty-two days. She was able to go to school during the day until she found a job in another house. “I had to look after the children. I was going to school in the mornings, but then I couldn’t go. . . . So I came back here [to night school]. I explained to my mother that the lady wanted me to study at night.” She left the house after an elderly woman was attacked on the street near the house where she worked. “San Salvador is dangerous.”
Flor N., seventeen
Seventeen-year-old Flor N. works thirteen hours each day as a domestic worker in San Salvador, beginning at 4:30 a.m. “It’s heavy work: washing, ironing, taking care of the child,” she told Human Rights Watch. When she finishes her workday, she heads to her fifth grade evening class. “Sometimes I come to school super tired….I get up at 2 a.m. to go to work.” When she rises at 2 a.m. to return to work, she must walk one kilometer along a dangerous road to catch a minibus. “At 2 a.m. there are gangs where I live. This morning there was a group from a gang that tried to rob me of my chain,” she said.
Flor receives about U.S.$26 each month for her labors. “In the morning I give milk to the baby. I make breakfast, iron, wash, sweep.” The only domestic worker for a household of four adults and a three-year-old, she is also responsible for preparing their lunch, dinner, and snacks, and she watches the child. “Sometimes I eat, but sometimes I am too busy,” she told us.
“There is no rest for me. I can sit, but I have to be doing something. I have one day of rest” each month.
Former official, Attorney General’s Office, San Salvador
“I have known various cases of patrones and sons who sexually abuse domestic workers, including cases in which the domestics became pregnant, and then [the families] throw the girls out. We followed at least three cases of this, and at least one was underage [under eighteen]. . . . The rate is huge. It’s the norm, whether it’s the patrón or his sons. It’s normal for her—she accepts it. She goes to work in a house, and she has no friends or relatives there, and she is afraid that she will be fired. If she says what is happening, they will fire her and say that she has provoked it. There is no fear of the complaint [process].”