The Guardian • Issue #2086


When nannies raise the children

  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2086
Half the Sky column logo

Throughout much of the world, there are many parents employing the use of migrant workers to bring up their children.

As a nanny working in France, I’ve seen firsthand the common sight of migrant women waiting at school pick-up. They come from many different regions, often from African and Southeast Asian countries.

A couple of months ago, I got talking with a woman from the Philippines who told me that she had migrated to France without papers in the mid-2000s. She had struggled until finally getting a visa in 2014, but the process of renewing her visa hangs over her head every time it’s due.

Many well-off families employ the services of migrant workers because they see it as a cheaper form of childcare than placing their children in centres. It also means their children will have one-on-one supervision and attention when parents aren’t there. It doesn’t hurt too that the parents can and will lean on these workers to go above and beyond in their role as nanny, often expecting them to perform additional duties around the house outside of their responsibilities.

For many nannies, their work often means they care for employers’ children at the cost of leaving their own children and family behind in their home country. Many migrant nannies feel the pressure to send money back home on top of trying to cover their own living expenses. While some may find a ‘good’ family, more often than not migrant nannies are forced to work for terrible wages and some suffer abuse.

Early this year, many migrant workers in France held their breath as politicians debated over proposed immigration law changes. In late January, the majority of the bill was deemed unconstitutional and much of the legislation was struck out. France’s Constitutional Council scrapped parts of the bill that would have delayed access to social benefits, introduced migration caps, and made it harder for workers to bring their families to France.

While these changes were rejected, it doesn’t spell an end to the right’s political agenda in France. The immigration bill was still passed through the parliament before it was somewhat defanged by the Constitutional Council.

We see the ruling class and the wealthiest people profit off the surplus labour value of migrant workers. These same people are then the ones who make life even harder for the people they are exploiting by creating and lobbying for laws that strip away their protections and social support.

In some extreme situations, domestic workers find themselves in what the UK government has recognised as slavery exploitation.

In a documentary by Channel 4 released in 2023, journalists followed volunteers in London from The Voice of Domestic Workers as they made multiple rescues.

Families will go so far as to withhold passports to keep the workers trapped in these situations. These women face coercion, abuse, and sexual assault. They are terrified to try and leave out of fear of retaliation.

Abuse and exploitation of migrant nannies manifests itself in many ways. As nefarious as it is, unfortunately it is also very common. You can see it in action at daily school pick-up time. It is a challenge to help women in these situations but increasingly, there have been efforts by activists and grassroots campaigns to advocate for nannies and raise awareness on the issue.

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