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BN Hot Topic: Overworked & Underpaid? Taking Domestic Help Abroad



house girlYou’re away from your home country abroad. Your children are young, you want them to speak their language and ‘know their culture’, so you take your nanny with you on a short holiday. Or maybe you ask your people to send you one. A few months turns into a few years and you didn’t renew the visa, made the housekeeper work more hours than was on the contract you showed when you applied for the visa (probably a fake, as the help probably never saw it), and by extension, paid them less than you agreed to.

It happens.

… but is it right?

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, 39, the deputy consul general of India in New York, USA found herself in that situation last week. She was arrested after dropping her daughter off at school, strip searched and detained in a holding cell with drug addicts, for visa fraud over her domestic help aka house girl in New York, before being released on $250,000 bail.

The charges were paying the house help far less than minimum wage and providing fake documents for her visa. Although the diplomat assured American authorities the maid would be paid $4,500 a month and would work only 40 hours a week, the U.S. prosecutors are alleging she paid her only $573 a month, for working far more hours than agreed.

The truth is, this could be someone you know. As it relates to Nigerians and indeed many Africans, many people take their nannies on short term holidays, especially when their child or children are young. They may sit in first or business class while the caretaker sits in economy. Then some others have helps sent over for long term care.

Right now, the Indian government is reportedly outraged especially in relation to diplomatic immunity – it’s insulting that such a high ranking official could be held in such conditions. But less noise has been made about the victim … how do you feel?

In their defense, for diplomats, and indeed an African abroad, it’s very common to have domestic helpers from your home country. There are many benefits including:

1. Having someone familiar with your language and culture around you and your family – they can share in your religion, cook the food you’re used to, it helps with home sickness.

2. They are able to speak your language to your children when you’re not around.

On the flip side, the help’s education may be neglected, they might be underage, they might be lonely (no family around, if they’re not related to you) and they are underpaid and overworked.

So BellaNaija-rians what’s your take on this issue?

If a family friend told you they had a help that you know damn well isn’t getting paid at all or getting paid enough would you report them? Not bat an eyelid? Warn them to be careful?

Share your thoughts!


Source: New York Times

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Ink Eze is the Founder of, a platform for sharing African traditional styles. She Modern Culture and Media at the Ivy League Brown University. She honed her skills in advertising and digital media at one of America’s leading tech companies in marketing. She became BellaNaija Weddings editor in 2013, and Assistant Editor of BellaNaija, heading the lifestyle section - Style, Beauty and Living until January 2017. Under her leadership, BN Weddings gained international prominence and became Africa’s foremost wedding media brand with millions of followers across several platforms and coverage on BuzzFeed, BBC & more. #AsoEbiBella became’s top feature, with over 1.8 million followers on Instagram. She conceived of BBN Wonderland, Nigeria’s top bridal event since 2015 with Baileys Nigeria. Now she spends her time on AsoEbiBella, and has executed marketing campaigns with local and international brands including HP Nigeria, Orijin and Sunlight Detergent. and sharing her insights with the world. For more Ink, join her on @Ink.Eze | @AsoEbiBella


  1. jcsgrl

    December 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    It was very wrong of her to be paying that nanny $573 a month. She could have at least paid her a $1k or more which is a typical rate. What I’m wondering is, who even blew the story? How govt take find out? I guess these nannies are wising up. Once they reach obodo oyibo their eyes go open

    • maria

      December 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      their is something called uncle SAM if Government suspect foul play in you taxes they can audit you especially when you have workers and it is a known thing that most house helps are underpaid and overworked

  2. FemaleNigerian

    December 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Would i report them? NO. Why? Its not my business -_-

    • ms lala

      December 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      thats why evil persist in the world….NOT YOUR BUSINESS BAH!?….i pity your lack of your type that will get robbed and hopefully no one will help because its not their business…THIS IS WHY THE WORLD KEEPS GETTING WORSE!!!!!!!!! and your a female for that matter…

    • ms lala

      December 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      bella naija better post my comments

    • M.h

      December 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      If we can only face our own problem, the world will be a better place..Robbery case get a Gun and protect yourself

  3. mia

    December 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    i just feel is difficult, if not impossible to get it right with this house help thing. no matter what you do, you never try enough, so my take is that you hire hands for professionally for what you can’t do by yourself and simplify your life too. many Nigerians like to cluster their lives, buying what they don’t need, having far too many children than they can raise (notice i did not say afford to raise financially) and getting houses that are too big for them to keep clean.

    i hate oppression, so if my friend is in this situation, i’ll talk to her candidly and avoid coming to her house if the situation persists.

  4. ms lala

    December 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I’ll report them immediately…its work slavery on the spot…Nigerians in Nigeria don’t treat their house staff (instead of calling them maids) with dignity what do you think they will do to a person who isn’t aware of the foreign laws and process in a foreign country…don’t get me started on Indians in Nigeria who treat their house staffs like CRAP..its already in their MO that anything darker than paperbag brow is beneath them ie OUTCASTE . You want your child to speak your language pull a Mexican grenade and speak the language to your children first or have your mom stay over with you for a while …if not accept the fact that your children are going to assimilate into the foregin country. you can’t eat your cake and have it..and the idea of wanting your kids to learn the language hence the “maids” spending maxmillion years with your household is BULL..ask me how many nigerian kids in nigeria speak thier native tongue…its literally dying out and besides every home has a Ekate or Comfort in their homes..ask madam if she speaks EFIK …no!!!! so why use that quasi cultural excuse to enslave a woman who will spend more time cleaning and washing in a foreign land than teaching your kids how to speak Efik when you know..your either yoruba, igbo, hausa, edo, delta and no where close to the language…am done!!!!!!! #TRUTHBOMB

  5. Abi

    December 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    The person that wrote this piece has probably never had a nanny and/or doesn’t have children. Its such a childish approach to the subject

    • AA

      December 19, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      Finally! Someone who gets it. Until you have kids, you will never understand the need for house helps. It’s so easy for people without kids to run their mouth on this issue. This is a difficult issue and as a working mother, I honestly can say that I will do anything I can, except abuse a human being, to have a live in nanny.

    • jinkelele

      December 20, 2013 at 1:24 am

      Did you read this at all, where in this article did she mention you dont need to have a nanny. The nanny was underpaid, the diplomat falsified the contract she gave authorities on the wages she was going to pay the nanny. So because the nanny is a nanny she no longer has rights. Please lets face the facts of an article not becoming defensive.

  6. Pauline

    December 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I think she could have kept to the pay she said or maybe bargained to have the cost reduced on paper too if she felt it was too much But as for sitting in 1st class and the help in economy. B4 nko? Should she pay for 1st class seat for her help too. People don’t even pay for their friends. Let your word be your word tho. Treat her fairly and that’s it.

    • maria

      December 19, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      she is a diplomat in america trust me she has the money she has enough to pay $ maids she was just been a wicked and selfish person

    • AA

      December 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      Why should she pay 1st class for her employee? She should feed her well, pay her well and treat her well. That is all she is obligated to do for her maid. Would you even buy a first class ABC bus ticket for your house help? Stop with this utopian society crap! It only works on paper

  7. Mz Socially Awkward...

    December 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Atoke, I like this hot topic, and it’s the last working Thursday of the year so the holiday carefree spirit has started displaying itself ’round these parts, beginning with my oga @ the top…

    Importing domestic help is a necessity, my silsta – abi dem don tell you how much daycare dey cost? Just this week, my friend who’s from Guinea Bissau was telling me that her mum’s been harrassing her and her husband to send their 2year old son back home for a couple of years, to save money. When she further revealed that sending him away for 2 years would save them nearly £20,500 in childcare, I volunteered to help pack up his belongings. And dem never buy house… that na money for better mortgage, na…

    If thou must bring someone, just be very careful about it and draw up a contract – you think it’s just a piece of paper but that na all Oyibo man dey find. Documentary evidence. And please pay the minimum wage, even if the money’s been paid in other ways to her family, etc. in Naija. If you are paying in Naira because the domestic worker has responsibilities in Naija that you’ve both agreed that you’ll support, it’ll be good to have payments made into his/her account in that country. Not just your brother sending money through his driver to drop at his/her father’s house…

    And for the love of God, bring someone mature. Someone who won’t complain of loneliness because they’ll be too busy looking forward to pursuing a university degree once the kids they’re looking after have started primary school, someone who’s able to calculate their opportunities to get a permanent resident’s status (I hear you only need 5 years on the domestic worker visa before becoming a UK permanent resident). If it has to be a younger worker, methinks getting someone from your family reduces some of your flight risks but maybe there are people who’ve had a bad experience, regardless.

    • TA

      December 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      The bit about sending a child to be raised by his grandparents is one kain o my sister. Think am well o,Yes,our parents raised us and did a good job but it is OUR responsibility to raise our own child,unless of course the parents of the child are not alive or extremely incapacitated. Me sha,this is why I strongly advocate that before you have a child,calculate o! Can you really afford to? And we are not justing talking in terms of Naira,Green back or Pounds alone o,we talking in terms of sacrifices, time and all the effort involved. Raising a child well is not yam and beans o…#justsaying

    • Idak

      December 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      By the time you calculate all these things, the woman dey busy dey find period wey don miss!!

    • Shade.

      December 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm

      Mz Socially A, I was seriously looking forward to your take
      on this. Succint points you raised. The yeye immigration rule has
      changed o. Now, a domestic staff is only allowed 6 months and back
      to ya country o. Really tired of their constantly changing
      immigration rules. Recently relocated Mum of 2 in dire need of

    • Natasha

      December 19, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      “When she further revealed that sending him away for 2
      years would save them nearly £20,500 in childcare, I volunteered to
      help pack up his belongings. And dem never buy house… that na money
      for better mortgage, na…” Always enjoy your commentary Mz. SA, but
      totally disagree with you on this one. This your friend didn’t
      think to find out the real costs of having a child? Smells of
      shortsighted-ness to me. I’ve been married 4yrs and still no kids.
      Why? Because they are bloody expensive (at least here in North-East
      USA). My husband and I literally have a child fund which we have
      been contributing to since we got married. It’s sole purpose will
      be to cover child care costs until they can start kindergarten (age
      4 or 5). And by God’s grace we are almost there. Plus we already
      know there will be minimum 4 or 5 yr gap between the two children
      we’d like to have, because that child fund will need to be
      replenished. People really need to examine all aspects of raising a
      child before doing it.

    • i no send

      December 20, 2013 at 11:25 am


    • i no send

      December 20, 2013 at 11:26 am

      gbam i meant lol

  8. Mz Socially Awkward...

    December 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Oh and forgot to add, Atoke, the one wey dey rain now for Naija peeps “in the obodo jand” na to employ au pairs from Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc. At around £500 a month, you save about £300+ in nursery fees and they have some cultural affiliations to Africans – e.g. importance of family, hardwork, etc. Plus, there’s more structure to their employment as they usually come from agencies, there’s an up-front agreement about holidays and working hours, etc. so you’re less likely to run afoul of the law… Forget all that talk about who go dey speak Nigerian languages to the kids, the priority is often getting someone to help with their basic day-to-day care…

  9. Chi

    December 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    $4,500.00 a month for a home help? Lord have mercy. I don’t earn that with my string of degrees and years of working experience.

  10. Dr. N

    December 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Very dicy. You can’t please nannies. They want to have the life you have, wear the clothes you wear, without knowing how long it took u to get there. I think abroad they should be paid minimum wage or more. In Nigeria, I prefer those who see it as a job. The younger ones see it as slavery, and take it out on your kids. Might be better to declutter your life, try day cares, or get the nannies who work 8 to 6. Documentation is key for those living abroad.

  11. Wooooo

    December 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    The way you treat your home helps, God will remember for YOUR CHILD

  12. Naveah

    December 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    She knows the law of the land, she is representing her country here in the United States yet she chose to abuse her position and embarrass her own country. She cheated and mistreated the domestic worker but had the never to complain that she was mistreated herself…you see human being? The things we get away with in Nigeria or any other country will not wash anywhere else where there are labor laws to protect workers. It all boils down to fairness, compassion, empathy and accountability. Keep records, follow the laws of the land and the terms of the contract and treat the worker with fairness. Are there unscrupulous people out there that you will bring here and they start calculating how quickly they can manipulate you and the system…sure but there are more that will act right if treated right.

    My aunt brought a third cousin of hers to this country when she worked in the diplomatic service and let me tell you even I wouldn’t leave with my aunt for free to save a million bucks. The woman can harangue somebody no be small ting, she can complain from day to night over the smallest things, she can talk your ears off about all she’s ever done for you except for giving you the breath in your body. When it came time to go home back to Naija after the terms of duty was up, the girl jejely left that night and never returned to Naija. Come and see my aunt go from panic to rage, she is still talking about it until today. Every single maid or servant except one has left her and usually they will steal from her too. She treats her household staff like they are beneath her. She even talks to some of her siblings who didn’t marry as well as if they are beneath her. My cousin still dey dis country even though she dey struggle with her papers but she don manage send her son through school by working with fake papers as a home health assistant, she bought a house etc. She would rather look over her shoulders for immigration than go back to Naija and this is since the late 80s.

    • TA

      December 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      You can say that again I do not understand why some Indians chose to be mean to their staff. Imagine a diplomat who should be champoning the causes of the disadvantaged,is now the same one exploiting them.You should see the way they treat their staff even in Nigeria! A couple of places come to mind easily for instance Park n Shop (Spar).

  13. Naveah

    December 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm


  14. Ima

    December 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    The easiest way of getting into trouble while living ‘abroad’, is to get domestic help. It is a Molotov cocktail and if the law gets involved, you will lose. You’ll be fighting slavery amongst other things. I know quite a few people that have literary lost the shirt of their backs because of this. some have even gone to jail.
    If the’ helper’ calls any of the protection services, you are toast. You are better off finding another way around you domestic work like DOING it yourself etc. Whatever the case, make sure they are documented or it will be a double whammy

  15. TA

    December 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    @ Nkechi,thanks so much for this article. May you live long.
    Please,if you are reading this and have a house help,maid,nanny etc whether in Nigeria,Kabul,Alaska Tokyo. Treat them right. Be fair. Too many people I see and know (neighbours in Naija) treat their maids worse than a slave. Remember,the only difference between the maid and you is; opportunity. They may not have had the same opportunities you had in life hence they are maids. But they are every inch as human as you. Be humane ,be nice,yes I said it be nice. If they disrespect you because you treat them nicely and respectfully,let them go and get another. Soldier go soldier come. But please do not perpetuate horrendous crimes on them because they are helpless. This space will not permit me to relate the horrible stories I have witnessed or heard people (Nigerians especially) perpetuate against their maids or domestic staff.

  16. Donald-Landon

    December 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I will call the family friend out first on the case and if nothing changes then they will be hearing from the cops because I will definitely report them. If I was working overtime in a firm on a consistent basis and I wasn’t getting paid for it -I will report the firm to the Business Bureau so why wouldn’t I do the same thing when it comes to housekeepers. Housekeepers are human beings too. That is somebody’s mother, daughter, niece e.t.c. If you can’t treat them like human beings then don’t hire one.

  17. Aibee

    December 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Hmmm, would have been nice for Atoke to have stated the Indian Diplomat’s side of the story. She claimed a portion of the nanny’s fees were being remitted to the nanny’s husband back in India. The truth of that defence remains to be seen.
    As for having maids, I think one should comply with the laws in your place of residence. E.g in Nigeria, maid should be over 18, that way it’s not child labour. Minimum wage only applies to civil servants so there’s no law to breach in that respect. Meanwhile, your conscience is your ultimate guide. Do to those maids, drivers, nannies etc as you would want your children to be treated. To my mind, that means feeding and clothing them well, being as loving to them as possible and doing your best to set them up for a decent life when they leave you. Help them get a reasonable education or vocational training – computer/IT skills, dress making, hair dressing etc.
    If you are abroad, do your house work yourself and use a sitter when the need arises. You’ll probably run foul of the law because you wanna be stingy. If you need help, pay for it.

    • Aibee

      December 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      Sorry, its Nkechi and not Atoke. My bad.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      December 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      No be only your bad, just seeing that myself…

  18. Ms Awol

    December 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Hmm this is a dicy subject. Although I in no way support domestic slavery and low wages, I hear some of these stupid girls, both Africans and otherwise, tell lies against their employers because there is no documentary evidence, because it is an automatic route to e.g UK Permanent Residency under the domestic abuse route. Even the Ukraine, Bulgarian, Eastern European ones get ke leg kpa kpa. A friend of mine employed one of these girls genuinely via an agency. She treated the girl like her sister (sat on the dining with them at meal times, hugged my friends parents and gisted with them whenever they were in town etc). Low and behold, this girl met one useless Nigerian Man (sorry my people but its true) on the internet, got rude to her and left. My friend overheard the girl on the phone telling her new ‘lover’ ‘Can you imagine, they even drive a range rover, live in a four bedroom house and I bath the child’.. Sometimes, jealousy plays a part too, but only God can help shs

  19. Divaress

    December 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    That is why if you want to hire a maid from abroad make sure it is not someone from your part of the world. 1. They tend not to take you for granted and get over familiar. 2. You sef will keep yourself in check because you can’t step out of line. With a fellow Nigerian or Ghanian, Indian, whatever especially when they come from lowly backgrounds you may misbehave albeit not intentionally but chances are that you may. Misbehave is relative don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you will be horrible and inhumane but you will be a little lax and have some kind expectations.
    My live in nanny is Mexican. We recruited her from the US, when we lived briefly in New York. Now we live in Europe, she’s been with us for years. Everything is documented, salary inclusive. She was a maid in the US (she was cleaning our apartment and we offered her a job to come with us) and she earns more here than she did in the US. She goes on holiday with us and once a year she goes back to America to see her children in College. Not once have we feared that she won’t come back because we treat her right. Once a year her children come to see her and she takes time off to be with them. She is an American citizen so we sef know we can’t step out of line because she will call the US Consulate straight away. That one about speaking a Nigerian language like @mslala said above. Story. My children speak fluent Spanish because of her. As in Fluent. They spoke Spanish before English. I speak a little bit of it with having her around. If I had to chose one language Yoruba or Spanish. Errrrrrr the choice is obvious. I have heard the horror my friends who have/had 9ja maids go through. They envy me like mad and those that can afford her have tried to steal her but because of how we treat her, she has stayed. She even tells us family so so so offered to hire her.
    Some people should just fear God. These are the people you entrust your most precious children to

  20. KOOL OLA

    December 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    My wife and i used to work full time so we employed a nanny
    to take care of our 2 kids. She will take care of them from morning
    till like 5pm when their mum get home from work. After about one
    year, it becomes clear i can no longer pay for the nanny’s fee.
    $300 per week is putting lots of strain to my wallet. I brought in
    a girl from Nigeria but once she got here, it becomes clear to me
    that she need to start her own life. Got her a student visa and she
    started college. She was unable to take care of the kids as much as
    needed. My wife has to change her job to part time to be able to
    spend more time at home with the kids.Indeed, I’ve seen house help
    or nanny’s exploitation almost in all countries I’ve been to. Like
    Ms Awol said, there has also been situations where house helps will
    cook up stories against their employers in order to gain some undue
    advantages which includes green cards. A good friend of mine in
    Chicago had such a nasty experience in the hand of a Nigerian girl
    he brought in 2 years ago. He almost go to prison for crimes he
    never committed based on the lies the girl has fabricated against

  21. i no send

    December 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    wao this subject has two sides to it and i have witnessed
    both ..that is the bad employee who mistreats her maid and the
    clever house helps who takes advantage of her employer…A lot of
    them are tutored when they arrive to go tp social services and
    scream rape or slavery because that leads to automatic residency. A
    friend brought her help to usa to help when she went to give birth
    truly you will never believe she was a help she always looked so
    fresh and happy …anyway to cut story short She made new friends
    and on the day they were to travel back with the kids She excused
    herself at the airport lounge to use toilet and disappeared

  22. Shona

    December 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Wow…scary shit there..Well,I have dis aunt dat treats househelps badly and she is a grandmother..U know when peeps feel like house helps are not on deir levels at all.She eats Semovita and buys a derica of garri for d maid to feed on for almost a week.Her maid would’nt make her hair,she wont let her touch her grandkids etc..Pains me when I see peeps treat their helps anyhow oo..This world na very small place,anytin fit happen anytym…If you have a help,pls treat her fine,let her eat what ur family eats,play wit ur kids etc.Enuf Said!

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