At least 52 million people around the world – mainly women – are employed as domestic workers, according to the first research of its kind conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Despite the size of the sector, many domestic workers experience poor working conditions and insufficient legal protection.

Domestic workers account for 7.5 percent of women’s wage employment worldwide and a far greater share in some regions, particularly Asia and the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Between the mid-1990s and 2010, there was an increase of more than 19 million domestic workers worldwide. Many migrate to other countries to find work. It is likely that the figures contained in the report underestimate the true numbers of domestic workers worldwide. The figures also exclude child domestic workers below the age of 15, who were not included in the surveys used by the report. Their number was estimated by the ILO at 7.4 million in 2008.

“Domestic workers are frequently expected to work longer hours than other workers and in many countries do not have the same rights to weekly rest that are enjoyed by other workers,” said ILO Deputy Director-General Sandra Polaski.

“Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”