GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
ABOUT six months ago, when a Ugandan maid, Jolly Tumuhiirwe, was filmed assaulting a toddler, a lot was said on the need for parents to do background checks of domestic workers.
Sentiments of worry were expressed by parents who watched the video, especially those who depend on maids to take care of their children.
Now a Zambian maid who stole two children aged six months and six years, makes the anxiety of parents who leave children under the care of nannies even worse.
Unlike Jolly, who was cruel to the toddler, this particular 18-year-old maid who was working in Kitwe was kind of loving and caring to her victims.
However, her attachment to the toddlers went to the extremes when she decided to deprive their loving parents so that she could have them to herself.
Well, for the uninformed, Iâ€™m talking about an 18-year-old housemaid of Kabwe who has been sentenced to two years simple imprisonment for stealing two children from her employerâ€™s neighbour.
The named girl of Butondo township in Kabwe had befriended this family, and was so nice to the kids that their mother had no worries having her around them.
But on this unforeseen day, she visited the family, and I suppose after an exchange of warm felicitations, the unsuspecting mother decided to take a bath.
Upon coming out of the bathroom, the mother discovered that the maid had disappeared with her kids.
I could not imagine the anxiety, confusion and pain that this distraught couple experienced during the few days that police were searching for the kids.
To cut the long story short, the children were found in Kabwe â€“ the six-year-old was found by a good Samaritan, alone at Big Bite Restaurant, while the infant was found in the custody of the convict.
And she told the court that she wanted to keep the children to herself so that they could be hers. Well, the girl, who readily pleaded guilty in court, is serving two years simple imprisonment.
According to Kitwe magistrate Daniel Musonda, who presided over the case, the offence carries a maximum of 14 years custodial sentence, but he opted to exercise leniency on the young girl.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, the children were found alive and well. You know, anything could have happened, especially that the six-year-old girl was abandoned in a faraway place, and apparently, the convict was more interested in the baby.
Information from the grapevine suggests that while working in Kitwe, the girl told her boyfriend in Kabwe that she was pregnant. At some point, she even sent him pictures of the six-month-old, claiming it was hers.
Police acted swiftly, and did a commendable job to retrieve the children before anything bad happened to them. And to make matters worse, apparently, the girlsâ€™ employers did not know where exactly in Kabwe, she was coming from, yet she was staying in their house.
And from my interaction with people who have live-in maids from outside town, I learnt that most of them have no slight idea where their nannies come from.
And if what happened to the Kitwe couple were to happen to other parents, most of them will have no idea of how to trace the people they entrust their children and homes with.
I kept on wondering to myself that suppose the Kabwe maid came from a far-flung rural community, what would have happened to the children? Mind you, the victims are little children who could not have found a way of escape on their own.
And I wonder how the affected couple would have taken it â€“ living a life where they donâ€™t know where their children are; how they are, and hoping against hope that they are alive.
Like the case of the Ugandan maid, the Kitwe incident got mothers and fathers who depend on maids to look after their children shocked and of course worried.
There are those parents who have no-one but nannies to look after their children.
We live in an era where parents spend long hours earning bread outside their home â€“ either as entrepreneurs or employees of different organisations.
And with growing competition in every sphere of business, people tend to work after hours, and sometimes do so on weekends and public holidays.
In this case, one cannot avoid hiring a maid, otherwise their work will stall, and the family will suffer depravity of many sorts if the breadwinner becomes economically inactive on account of looking after children.
So no doubt, domestic workers are very important and in their absence, there would be no productivity or gross domestic product for technocrats to talk about.
I am also mindful that women are no longer just running cottage industries – they are now active in the labour market and spend long hours away from home.
But stories of domestic workers torturing or stealing children can be quite disturbing to such parents.
When the Kitwe story broke out, I have interacted with mothers who are worried about the safety of the children that they leave with maids. And one mother said something that keeps lingering on my mind: â€˜What would I do if I knocked off from work only to find that the maid has taken away my children?â€™Â She went on: â€˜My maid is good, but with what is happening, I donâ€™t know if I can trust her.â€™
Understandably so, the story of a maid stealing children will worry any parent. However, as parents we can do what is humanly possible to minimise the risks or avoid such unfortunate situations.
First of all, itâ€™s important to know the background of the person you are employing, and this includes knowing the family where one is coming from.
If one stays within town, there will be no harm, going to their place to meet their relatives, friends and neighbours.
And if the maid is coming from outside town, itâ€™s better that she is recommended by a person who can trace where she is coming from, and her relatives too.
A lot of people have been robbed by maids who they canâ€™t trace. Itâ€™s also a good precautionary measure to check with your maidâ€™s previous employer before taking her on. I know for sure that most maids lie about their previous employers and will not tell you the truth about why they stopped work. But a person who is able to link you to their previous employer is worth trying.
In addition, domestic workers should submit photocopies of their national registration cardsÂ before commencement of work. If one does not have an NRC, then one is not suitable for the job.
Apart from your own safety, you need to know your maidâ€™s family, in case she falls sick and you need to communicate with them.
Having said so, I salute the Kitwe Magistrateâ€™s Court for sentencing the Kabwe girl to two years imprisonment.
One can only hope that this will deter would-be offenders and that the worried parents will look at the issue from this positive perspective.
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GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA