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By SUNDAY ANI

(nichsunny@yahoo.com)

A top female politician (names withheld by us) got the shock of her life recently when she returned from a political engagement and discovered that her house maid had disappeared with her box of jewellery and huge amount of money stashed in her safe. Interestingly, there were about three policemen guarding the house at the time the crime was committed.    

A source close to the politician told Daily Sun: “When the woman returned from an outing in company with some guests, she was angry that food was not ready yet. She asked after the maid and was told that she left some hours earlier, saying that she was going to the market. After waiting for a while, the woman started dialling her mobile telephone number. Although the phone rang several times, the maid refused to answer the calls. The woman’s bedroom door was forced open because the maid went out with the keys and it was discovered that she had destroyed the safe and made away with the box of jewellery and cash in local and foreign currencies. Looking at the fellow, you will never suspect that she could do that. She was quiet and respectful but behind the façade, lies a lioness.”

On December 7, 2014, a housemaid simply identified as Juliet, abducted two children of her employers in Lagos State. Juliet’s employers, Mr. Elvis and Mrs. Onajite Esharegharan, who live on Gateway Crescent in Magodo area of Lagos, were said to have employed Juliet just five days before the ugly incident. Investigation revealed that Juliet was employed on December 2 through a sales portal, OLX, where a visitor, identified simply as Omolade, had advertised the services of a humble housemaid.

Omolade, it was further learnt, had posted a telephone number on the website through which those interested in a humble housemaid could apply. It was Omolade, who took Juliet to Onajite’s office after she had applied to hire the services of a humble housemaid, as advertised in the portal. The 24-year-old purported humble housemaid was said to have fled the home with the kids, Raphael and Michael, aged three years and 15 months respectively, in the evening of Sunday, December 7, 2014 after the couple went out about 6:00pm for shopping in celebration of Elvis’ birthday.

On March 27, 2014, a houseboy identified simply as David, beheaded his 65-year-old former employer and Chief Magistrate, Olufunmilayo Timeyin, at her residence. Her crime was sacking David for allegedly stealing her jewellery and phones, among other belongings.

It is a global menace. Take this: In December 2014, a 22-year-old Ugandan maid, Jolly Tumuhirwe, was jailed for four years. Her crime? She, according to Chief Magistrate Lillian Buchan, committed an “unjustifiable and inexcusable” crime by abusing a toddler under her care. The judge sentenced the nanny to four years imprisonment because of the “ruthlessness exhibited” on an “innocent, helpless child.”  Indeed, it was a case that shocked the world after a video of the assault went viral. The media described as “spine-chilling” and “very disturbing” the video footage, showing the nanny performing her devilish acts on the toddler.

In the video, the maid unleashed her wickedness on the child when she resisted to be fed, possibly because she was not feeling well or she didn’t like the meal. But that was not for the maid to find out; she never bothered to know why the baby refused to eat. She rather gave the baby a resounding slap, which forced her to vomit the little she had already taken in.

Tumuhirwe did not stop at that. She violently threw the child on the floor, mounted and marched on her back, before hitting her with a metal object. Not even the heavy screaming of the baby could assuage the burning anger of the maid as she kicked the baby, lifted her with one hand and took her away for further torture. Anybody who watched the video would be convinced that the maid wanted the baby dead. UNICEF head Aida Girma said: “The video of this baby being beaten is shocking. Any such act of abuse and violence against children is completely unacceptable.”

The stories about house maids are mind-boggling and spine chilling. They range from stealing of their bosses’ money and other valuables to organising armed gangs to attack them or orchestrate the kidnap of their employers and/ or their children. Some maids also sexually assault their charges just as some maltreat the children they were engaged to take care.  There are also house helps who kill their employers for whatever reasons.

Maids are sometimes at the receiving end. Last year, Miss Ita Bassey-Eno, a maid, was allegedly set ablaze in Surulere, Lagos by her boss, Mrs Nkese Iroakasi. She died five days after the ‘baptism of fire.’ Her crime was that she allegedly stole a piece of meat from the pot of soup.

Not long ago, a mother of four, Mrs Ifechukwu Obi allegedly used a hot electric pressing iron to burn her housemaid’s body. She allegedly used the hot electric iron on the two buttocks of her 13- year-old maid, Miss Chinenye Emeka. She said: “I did it out of annoyance and it was not intentional.”

In the beginning

In time past, when women were primarily consigned to their traditional role of looking after the home front, only few families employed the services of house helps. In those good old days, women took care of the children while the men went out to work in order to provide food and other necessities of life for the family. Men were basically breadwinners of their individual families then.

In short, in most African homes, there was nothing like housemaid. At best, what obtained then was communal or filial assistance to nursing mothers in their domestic chores. Today, the situation has changed. Due to civilisation and harsh economic realities, which made it difficult for men to adequately provide for their families, women now engage in productive ventures to support their families. In some cases, women are even the breadwinners because their husbands are either dead, out of employment or are debilitated by one terminal ailment or the other.

Since women now go out to work, it becomes imperative that somebody must stand in for them while they are at work. Some women resort to the use of housemaid while others take their children to Day Care Centres, where they pick them up at the close of work. Yet, others hire non-residential nannies for the same purpose.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Childhood Research stated that 58 per cent of children under the age of three spend between 30 and 70 hours a week with domestic helps.

What they do

There are cases of housemaids who edged their madam out of their homes and assumed the role of wives. There are still others who have succeeded in planting themselves as second wives in the homes they were hitherto engaged as maids. Others have initiated their employers’ children into one occult kingdom or the other. Yet, there are those who connived with their lovers to wreck untold havoc on the family of their employers. The list is endless.

Sharing her experience with a housemaid, a businesswoman in Lagos, Mrs Justina Udo, who has been married for about two years now with one child said: “My husband got me a 20-year-old housemaid last month to assist me with house chores and also take care of our little baby. I ought to happy about his good intentions but I am not because he didn’t discuss it with me. The girl was brought to me when my husband was not at home and in the course of my discussion with her, I was surprised to hear from her that she had agreed with my husband on the amount she would receive as her monthly salary before coming to see me. More surprising was the fact that when my husband came back from work and I introduced the girl to him, he pretended as if he had never seen her before.

“Few days later, I asked my husband how much the girl would be paid and he quoted a different amount from what the girl earlier told me. Why I am not sure if I still need a housemaid is that each time I scold the girl in the presence of my husband, he would scold me back. The whole thing just looks messy and I don’t even know what to do again.”

Analyzing Mrs Udo’s predicament, some would think that her husband has already started having amorous affairs with the maid and that is why he promptly comes to her defence anytime his wife scolds the girl.

However, a cross section of ladies who spoke to our reporter on the experience of Mrs Udo agreed that she has no business scolding a girl who does what she could not do. They agreed that her husband was only expressing sympathy for the poor girl considering the enormity of what she does every day and instead of commending her efforts, his wife choses to scold her for doing what she could not do. All things considered, there those who strongly believe that maids are inevitable because of the roles they play in families where both parents are working.

A front desk officer in a telecommunication company in Lagos, Emilia Johnson, said: “Why would a woman want a house help to do or take over her responsibilities in the home? She just had her first child and has hired a housemaid; what would happen when she has two or three children? Some women are just too lazy; that’s it.”

A businesswoman,Matina Eke, also wonders why women employ house helps to do their jobs. She said: “Please, why do women employ house helps? She just had one child and she is seeking a maid. What happens when she has more children? If you ask me, I will tell you clearly that women are the cause of so many ugly things that happen in their homes. When you show your husband that you are incapable of handling the home, then certainly, you have no right to scold someone who is doing most of the work. If you ask me, I think that is why the man is always angry and does not want his wife to make life miserable for the maid in any way.”

Kehinde Adelaja said: “I keep wondering about our obsession for nannies, baby sitters and all the other fancy names they call them. It is now a status symbol to have a house help even for the smallest chores of the house. Some have taken the craze to a different level that they now use house helps for every particular chore in the house to show affluence. Some homes have as many as four or five maids, with different job descriptions in the house. No husband likes his wife to be lazy; husbands should even be proud of their wives and even try to give a helping hand when the work is too much. But in this situation, do you think the man can say he is proud of his wife? He cannot. The woman in question needs to change and act fast before she loses her man to the maid. We have seen it happen and hers won’t be any different if she continues like this. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.”

But for a banker, Grace Ijendu, maids are necessary in some cases and cannot be avoided. She said: “Home management is not as easy as it seems. The woman has a baby to look after; food to cook, clothes to wash and she also needs to go to the market and buy stuffs needed in her home. The questions should be: where will she keep the baby to do all the chores? How long will she depend on neighbours for help? I would advise that she avoids any situation that will make her husband scold her in the girl’s presence, because that will empower the maid to start talking back at her and start misbehaving. No matter how we try to paint the whole thing and look at it from the negative side, the need for maids has more positives than negatives. Life is so complex that unless you are in that situation, you won’t appreciate what the other person is going through. She should be patient and not nag at her husband.”

For Ogonna Eze, a teacher in Enugu State, women are moving away from the values set by our mothers. She said: “It’s difficult doing house chores and taking care of babies but our mothers did so in the past without complaining or looking for maids. So, why has it changed overtime? Why can’t we emulate them? Some ladies just want to act big. If they need help they should take their children to the crèche so they can have enough time to do whatever they need to do. I would advise that if she wants her respect in the home, she should stand up and take charge of her home by carrying out her responsibilities. If not, she certainly won’t get the maid’s respect or that of her husband. By the way, who says you need a house help to survive? Ladies in Nigeria need to wake up. If not, she will not only end up paying her maid in cash but will end up paying with her emotions too.

For Patience Otokhine, medical laboratory scientist, people should not judge blindly because they not understand what the woman in question is passing through. Hear her: “He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Don’t judge women who chose to have house helps. I don’t think any woman would just want a house help for the fun of it, especially when it threatens the peace and comfort of her marriage.”

However, the list of negative tales about housemaids is endless. The questions are: Are all housemaids’ evil? How can you tell a good maid from a bad one? What type of person tortures a child or takes a little one’s precious life? What kind of maid would sell off the kids she is meant to look after or initiate the kids into the occult kingdom?

According to Hala B. Roumani, Principal of the Gulf Montessori nurseries in Dubai, aside from the frightening possibility of endangering children’s safety, there are other detrimental effects of leaving children with maids. “Parents who delegate childcare to untrained maids and nannies risk their children’s development at a crucial early age,” she said.

Also, a 2012 study on the subject entitled, ‘Parental involvement in the education of their children,’ concluded that parents are essential for the emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive development and well-being of their children. The study further revealed that in the children’s formative years, their minds and personalities are developing rapidly and language skills could be hampered if not properly handled.

However, in the face of all the alleged atrocities being committed by housemaids against their employers, investigation has revealed that employers rarely report maid who has mistreated a child to the security agencies. They would rather take laws into their own hands by punishing these maids and later chasing them away.

Checks equally revealed that cases, which are often reported to the security agencies, are mostly about maids who are impregnated by their employers and abandoned or cases of maids who molest young boys or the ones that were abused physically by their employers. The statistics of parents who report maids over physical torture of their children are very rare.

The alternative solution

The prospect of hiring a maid to look after your child may sound good because it is a cheaper option when compared with taking your kids to a day care centre. It also seems more comfortable when compared with non-residential nannies.

Rosemary, a factory worker and a mother of four in Lagos said she would feel more comfortable taking her child to a day care centre but her household budget just cannot stretch that far. “I would love to keep my child at a day care centre to avoid all the risks that come with maids, but I simply can’t afford it. Day care centres are out of reach of most ordinary working parents because they are highly expensive,” she said.

Why maids do it 

Psychologists say there are many factors that could drive maids into becoming monsters.

According to a professional counsellor, Jane Gatete, maids are not naturally evil. “No one is born evil. It all comes from somewhere. It is all in one’s background. She might have experienced physical, emotional or even sexual abuse in her childhood. And after such experiences, she slowly develops anger inside her and that is the anger that she will unleash on the child. Some people may argue that some parents mistreat the maids; yes, that might be there but it is just a trigger not a cause. It is usually important to try and find out as much as possible about the maid – how she was raised and if she encountered any bad experience as a child, because anything that brings bad memories may cause the maid to revenge on the child,” he submitted.

James Asanya, a father of three, insists that there is no clear cut way of knowing that the maid you are hiring is good or bad. According to him, “whether it is through companies or relatives and friends, you can never predict that a maid will be good because it is human nature to change. However, I would like to urge parents to treat maids well because if you mistreat a maid, he or she can do something hurtful to your family. Make the maid feel as a part of the family and not as an outsider.”

Also speaking on why maids torture children, a Consultant Psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Dr Leonard Okonkwo refers to submission by one of the founding fathers of psychology and psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, to drive home his point. According to Dr Okonkwo, Freud painted a vivid picture of how people behave when he said that the personality of people is made of three constructs or factors; namely the instinct; the ego, which is the rational thinking and the moral standard, which is the super ego.  The combination of the three is what produces what we see as a person’s personality.

Taking a critical look at reasons that could make a housemaid want to maltreat a kid placed in her care, he said: “First of all, to be wicked or to do that kind of thing to a child who is innocent is very abnormal. It is not a normal thing and for any maid to do that, it means that she has some problems. One of the ways an individual protects himself from anxiety is what we call defence mechanism and one of such defence mechanisms that we can find in this kind of situation is repression. For instance, a house girl coming to live with you in the house already has a kind of frustration. She believes that life is not fair to her. She begins to ask questions like: What have I done wrong? Why should I be the one to serve when others are going to school and others are living in comfort? Why should I be the one to be in the kitchen while others are watching television in the sitting room? She begins to feel that already life is not fair. So, she is repressed.

“Now, if, perhaps, the family, particularly the madam is in anyway perceived as not being kind to the housemaid, that feeling is repressed in the maid because she can’t fight her madam. The anger is repressed and what we call displacement follows. Displacement simply means the transference of that repressed anger towards the parents to the child. Simply put, it is a situation where anger or some feelings are directed or transferred from a dangerous object to a less dangerous one.”

He gave further illustrations, saying: “The maid’s anger is repressed because she can’t challenge her madam, as doing so may amount to losing her job or being beaten up thoroughly. So, what she does is to transfer that anger or aggression that she perceives against her boss to the kids because the kids are perceived to be less dangerous than their parents. That is one of the major reasons why we find house girl maltreat the kids under her care. It is usually due to repressed anger that could have been expressed towards the parents but because they are perceived as too dangerous to express such anger towards, the anger is then directed at the children who cannot say anything.”

Signs of maltreatment

Giving an insight into the signs that a child is being maltreated, he also said: “If a child feels uncomfortable when he or she is with the housemaid alone, it is a pointer that the housemaid might be maltreating the child. Also when you find marks on the child that were not there before and are unexplainable, they are most likely to come from the housemaid. When you find a child not growing as he or she is supposed to grow even when everything is provided, it could be a sign that the child is being maltreated. For instance, when you keep a child with the housemaid and she decides to eat all the food and just gives very little to the child, of course the child will not grow as he or she is supposed to grow. There are a lot of things that you can see to show you that your child is being mistreated by your maid.”

Psychological effects of maltreatment on kids

He also believes that such maltreatment has negative psychological effects on the kids later as they grow up. “Such mistreatments have adverse psychological effect on the kids as they grow up. For instance, most of the housemaids themselves turn to terror because many of them too have been abused one way or the other while they were growing up; some of them sexually. So, when they now get to a point where they can do the same, they don’t hesitate to do the same thing to people who are kept in their care. Also, the child who has been maltreated might grow up with some anxiety and insecurity as the child might grow up with the feeling of being alone,” he said.

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