(Pic: Flickr / Aimee Ray)

‘Nanny from hell’: The problem with childcare in Africa

(Pic: Flickr / Aimee Ray)
(Pic: Flickr / Aimee Ray)

A graphic video which showed the abuse of a Ugandan toddler at the hands of Jolly Tumuhirwe , now dubbed “the nanny from hell”, recently made the rounds on social media.

The child’s parents had noticed bruises on their 18-month-old daughter and decided to secretly plant a nanny camera in their home to monitor the maid. The footage showed Tumuhirwe force-feeding, slapping, kicking and stepping on the child. She was arrested and, on Monday this week, pleaded guilty to child torture. The case has been postponed to December 16.

Many people I know could not bear to watch that chilling video. However, the more I read about this story, the more frustrated I got at the reaction – anger, horror, outrage. These are warranted of course, but we don’t seem to be addressing the more important issue here: parental responsibility and childcare options in Africa.

Who put this little girl in the care of someone who obviously is not equipped to do that job? Her parents did. Should the blame then lay partially on them for hiring Jolly? It is also a fact that after the incident, her parents appear to continue to parade their daughter in the media for the whole world to see. When are they are going to realise enough is enough and allow their child to return to a life of normalcy? As a parent, it makes no sense to put my children – no matter their age – through such a public circus.

The real issue parents are facing across Africa is inadequate childcare. We have all heard the horror stories from friends and family: the maid who sneaks her boyfriend into the house and makes out with him in front of the child; the maid who neglects to change nappies; or the one who just walks out and disappears, leaving the child alone at home.

Childcare is a huge problem on our continent because it is treated as an informal sector, much like cleaning – merely a maid’s job. Our children deserve much better than that. Recruitment of domestic workers and/or nannies is not monitored and there is no vetting system to establish the suitability of child minders. We need more than just a list of stock questions to ask potential nannies and maids. In the  United Kingdom, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is the official inspections and regulatory body for services which care for children and young people, as well as educational establishments. Ofsted monitors child minders, nannies and au pairs who are registered. Although it is not compulsory to register with them, it is highly recommended and accepted as good practice. Parents are encouraged to hire Ofsted registered nannies because of the tax incentives afforded to them; where a proportion of their salary is paid through “salary sacrifice“, thus reducing their childcare costs. Nannies benefit from registration because it raises their professional status and accessibility to job opportunities as they are accepted into a searchable database through Ofsted.

They are also required to complete a paediatric first aid course and a childcare and home safety training course. There are other qualifications such as certificates in food safety and hygiene or two-year diplomas in nanny training.

In places such as the UK, US, Canada and Australia, childcare is very serious business. This, beyond a shadow of doubt, means that very few people are able to afford the actual costs of childcare, especially for children under the age of two. In the UK, childcare options such as child minders, daycare nurseries and nannies set parents back by between £600 to £3000 per month. This is the price most working parents who can afford it have to pay because it is increasingly getting difficult for people to raise families on a single income.

If no adequate childcare service is available, then one parent, often the mother, will have to face the choice of forgoing her career and source of income to stay home to look after the children until they are a little older. That may be a small price to pay considering the alternative of having your baby bashed to a pulp.

I believe African countries should follow suit in regulating childcare service in some way. The introduction of legislation requiring a minimum standard for in-home childcare service providers, plus the requirement for registration through a regulatory body would be a step in the right direction. Pre-established organisations such as the Uganda Child Rights NGO Networks (UCRNN) can assist with the establishment of such legislation if they expand their scope beyond child rights advocacy. The private sector would have a huge role to play in providing services which can screen and facilitate the training of child care workers.

What parents can do is raise their expectations of the people they hire. Requesting a proper CV and references from someone of good standing in the applicant’s community is a good way to filter through and judge the suitability of an applicant. Children are far too precious, so we can not afford to risk placing them into the care of people who would not know the difference between washing dishes and caring for infants.

The steps suggested above are still a far cry from what is required to provide a robust system as they still rely heavily on an informal mechanism for raising childcare standards. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our children starts with us but does not end there. Parents need additional support in order to establish the required standard of childcare. Governments should put proper steps in place so that childcare providers are properly trained – and remunerated. Furthermore, the services required to maintain childcare at a desirable standard widens the opportunity for job creation in the formal economy. Whether or not parents may be concerned about bearing the actual costs, is another matter.

Freedes Em is a working mother of two. She is also an African food writer who churns out recipes and comments on African culture. She is the official African Cuisine expert at About.com and blogs at myburntorange.com.

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