I read this rather thoughtful article by the ever selfless Jake, my very good friend and I thought it would be an interesting read plus an eye opener for those of us who err without even knowing it.
Although you might find a few references to the law, these rules are propositions from the desk of a concerned human rights lawyer who is tired of the reported abuses faced by house boys and house girls in Abuja.
For the purpose of consistency, I will only be using the term “House girl” but the expression shall also apply to House boys, nannies, maids, helps, cleaners etc.
The 42 Rules
- House girls and their madam or oga are EQUAL under the law.
- Section 34 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for the right to the dignity of the human person. House girls deserve their right to dignity. Under no circumstance should they be used as slaves or compelled to forced labour. All work must be remunerated adequately.
- Once she is above 18, under no circumstance should you beat or maltreat her. If words cannot do it, its not by force, you can get another house girl but beating her or flogging her with cane or subjecting her to any form of degrading treatment is unlawful.
- You will not die if you greet her first
- Don’t shout at her and if you have to, don’t do it in front of strangers, kids, and neighbours or to the hearing of the whole world.
- She is allowed to join Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn
- She is allowed to look for a better madam even under your employ. You cannot ban or frustrate her from seeking better employment
- She can ask for a raise and she should not be punished or told her life story because she asked
- As far as she has attained 18 years of age, she can wear what she likes as long as it is clean, reasonably decent and comfortable
- Under no circumstance should your barb her hair without her consent
- She is employed to you and not your friends or children. Under no circumstance will you send her over to your friends house for a working spree or allow your children make her to do their basic duties
- Don’t tell her to carry load that you yourself cannot carry
- When her work is complete she is allowed to watch television
- If she is 18 and above, she is allowed to have a boyfriend and she doesn’t need you to help her select which one is suitable for her
- Once in a while, ask her how’s she’s doing, ask about her family, and ask her what it would take to make her job better/or easier? Are there any concerns she will like to share? Open up discussions with her at least once a week
- Send her recharge card if you can, tip her when she does something very good. You mustn’t collect every change from her when she returns from the market.
- Let her eat whatever you’re eating. You cannot cook Christmas rice and chicken and you ask her to boil water for Eba for herself
- She can use make-up abeg
- If your husband does anything with her, it’s your husband you should face and not her, except she raped him.
- If she’s a Muslim, let her observe her daily Salat. If she’s a Christian, let her go to church. If she’s not your religion don’t try to convert her by force. Did she ask you? (Section 38 of the Constitution provides for the Freedom of Religion)
- Don’t try to match make her with your friend’s houseboy
- What are her long-term dreams/goals? Inspire her to achieve them
- She is allowed to have friends and they are allowed to gossip (Section 39 of the Constitution provides for Freedom of Expression)
- Send her to the saloon once in a while. Send her to a spa once in a year.
- She is never too old to go to school. Enrol her (there are even adult schools and evening schools. Ask around)
- If she says she’s not feeling fine, she really is not feeling fine. Don’t buy her paracetamol and ask her to continue working. If she needs to go to the hospital, take her there and don’t just dump her there, stay with her.
- She is allowed to buy things with her money. Don’t punish her if she decides to buy things of luxury like shortbread biscuits or Maltina. You, buy your own.
- Teach her how to greet, how to sit, how to welcome strangers, deliver parcels and how to exit the house in case of emergency. Teach her how to quench a fire, describe the road to the nearest police station to her. Help her cram your number and show her where the first aid kit is kept
- You can’t be rubbing cream and ask her to rub pomade. Under no circumstance should she baff with detergent or wear air freshener as cologne.
- In a year, she is entitled to at least a month’s leave. You can divide it into two weeks off, twice in a year
- For every 5 times your kids go abroad, she deserves one. Make sure she has a passport and renew it as time goes on.
- Don’t ban her from speaking her language
- Don’t search her things unnecessarily and without her consent
- If there’s any issue between her and another person (even if its your children or relative) please she is not at fault automatically. Hear her out as well. In law we call it Audi Alteram Partem (hear both sides). Remember Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Provides for the Right to Fair Hearing.
- Don’t go through her text messages and don’t pick her calls except she can pick yours and read yours too.
- Under no circumstance should she be discriminated on grounds of tribe, religion, sexual orientation, age, language or gender. (Section 42 of the constitution provides for Freedom from Discrimination). If she’s living with albinism, provide her with sunscreen, hats and umbrellas and don’t send her long message in the sun.
- She is entitled to at least 6 hours of sleep daily. If you keep her working till late night, please compensate her by allowing her a few hours of morning sleep. Also, you cannot enter cab and ask her to trek.
- Open a bank account for her and teach her how to use an ATM machine. Encourage her to save money.
- Don’t ask her for sex, she might give in to the pressure, not because she likes you but because you are their oga. Respect yourself and don’t complicate your employment agreement with her or with her madam.
- Tell her a list of do’s and don’ts at the beginning of the employment. Key words are “beginning of the employment”. It is not when she does something that you will tell her that she has faulted your rules and then you will now punish her.
- Know her family/guardian and report to them constantly. Call and visit at least once in 6 months
- Pay her salary complete and pay it promptly. If you will delay in payment, tell her on time, if money is not complete, ask her if she’s okay with it. You can ask her to understand with you if you have challenges. “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank you” are not abominations to her.
Thank you for taking time to go through these rules.
Jake Okechukwu Effoduh is a Research Fellow with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies [NIALS]. It is the apex legal institution in Nigeria. He is actively involved in human rights advocacy and he has also been a freelance radio presenter with the BBC Media Action in Nigeria since 2006.