You Might be Guilty of Abusing Your House Help if You Do These 15 Things

Updated: Dec 12, 2021
By Maryam Idris Bappa

In northern Nigeria, when you hear the ‘word’ abuse, the first thing likely to come to your mind is ‘Drug abuse’. Why? This is because it is one of the most socially recognized and stigmatized forms of abuse.

But before we discuss more on that, let us have a look at the concept of abuse.

What is Abuse?

Generally, abuse is the improper usage or treatment of a thing, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit. Both animate and inanimate things, tangible and intangible things can be abused. For example, one can abuse a privilege, an animal, a human, or a pencil.

Abuse of People

When talking about abuse of people, however, we can say abuse is that which originates from a difference in power and sprouts from a notion that people can unjustly use someone that they feel are lesser than them. This can happen intentionally or unintentionally.

Types of People Abusers

There are two types of abusers. Those that abuse intentionally and those that abuse unintentionally

Unintentional Abusers

People that abuse others unintentionally are usually victims or witnesses of abuse themselves and may do so due to a lack of knowledge that it is wrong.

Lack of emotional intelligence may also trigger unintentional abuse. Simply speaking, it might have been what was done to them or what they have seen others doing and ended up doing it themselves.

Intentional Abusers

Intentional abusers however are very much aware of what they are doing and its implications but will continue to do so at the expense of what they deem a small price to pay as long as it will benefit them. Such types of people usually feel they are above all including the law.

Abuse of people by other people may occur in many forms but this article will focus on “Yar aiki” abuse in northern Nigeria.

Meaning and Roles of Yar aiki

The term ‘Yar aiki’ is a local term used to describe a house girl or a ‘female house help’ which can range from a young girl of ten years to an old woman of fifty or more. She may be unmarried, married, or a divorcee.

This is because, in the northern society, it is almost taboo for boys or men to mix with members of the household as a result of religious and cultural practices. Such types of ‘Yar aiki’ may be educated or uneducated, work as live-in or part-time helps and maybe from similar or different regions as the household members.

The work of a ‘Yar aiki’ usually ranges from cooking, cleaning, washing plates or clothes, and taking care of a baby’s needs if any. But these ladies are often taken advantage of in many households in northern Nigeria that it has almost become a norm.

Yar aiki Abuse in Northern Nigeria

Any action that intentionally harms or injures a house help, causing her harm or distress, is referred to as abuse.

Yar aiki’ abuse is a notion of the wrongness of using one’s house help as a means to one’s end rather than as an end in herself. From another perspective, ‘Yar aiki’ abuse may be termed as “socially constructed”, which means there may be more or less recognition of the suffering of the house helps at different times and societies.

This is why even when ‘Yar aiki’ abuse is popular in northern Nigeria, the first thing likely to come to your mind when you hear of abuse is ‘drug abuse.

Does this lack of recognition of house help abuse in northern Nigeria come from ignorance of people on the concept of abuse? Or are the authorities to blame for its lack of policies to hinder its widespread? Whichever it may be, one has to recognize a problem before one can solve it.

Are You Abusing Your House Help?

Often the people who commit abuse are taking advantage of a special relationship in the home, workplace, hospital, or a public place. This can come in the form of disrespect or causing someone physical or mental pain. Economic and social differences have given many people weapons to implement abuse as they deem please with or without realizing it.

This article will educate people especially women, who are usually the bosses of these house helps, on the different angles abuse can take form and what they are doing to promote it. Here are fifteen ways you are abusing your house help with or without your knowledge, divided into six types of abuse.

Physical Abuse

Basically, deliberate and unwanted contact with your house help that causes or is intended to cause her harm is physical abuse. It also includes using or threatening to use a weapon on her. However, you may also be physically abusing your house help by rough-handling, scalding, physically punishing, involuntarily confining, assaulting, or forcibly feeding or withholding food from her.

Below are ways you are physically abusing your house help.

1. When You Beat or Punish Her

Physically assaulting your house help by slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, or shoving her around just because she accidentally burnt your favourite ‘Atamfa’ is cruel and is not going to unburn it. Neither is scalding or burning her with the same pressing iron.

Do not deny her lunch or make her do the frog hop as punishment because she took too long at an errand or lost part of the money.

Some of these young girls are just too young to be’ that responsible’ or unfamiliar with your lifestyle. For them, simple things may look like driving a car. If you can’t pardon a mistake in a particular chore, desist from giving it to them. Remember everyone makes mistakes and there are other ways to resolve issues without turning to physical violence.

2. When You over Burden Her With Work

Do you feel tired after cleaning, washing, cooking, and ironing? Mmm, guess what, your house help does too. Because she is human just like you! If you think your house help doesn’t get to have an excuse not to work or have a break, then you should get her machine parts that run on battery. Don’t be so lazy that you overwork your house helps too much. Some house helps literally do everything for everyone including simple household and personal chores. This is worse for the life in house helps, who are usually the first to wake and last to go to bed.

Do not take advantage of her financial vulnerability and overwork her till she crashes. If you can afford to replace her, she may not be able to replace her health. Give your house help enough sleeping hours and an hour or 30 minutes break at a time during the day.

Encourage other house members to engage in chores and know that she may not complain, but her body certainly does.

Verbal Abuse

Verbally abusing your house help includes the use of language to criticize, name-call, put down, threaten or blame her. This behaviour makes her doubt her abilities and subjugate herself to you, resulting in a loss of her self-esteem. This can interfere with your house help’s positive development and over time, lead to significant detriment to her person’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Below are ways you are verbally abusing your house help.

3. When You Say Words That Dismis Her Opinions

“Nobody asked you” when she attempts to suggest a better way of doing something your pride is unwilling to accommodate. “keep quiet and go back to your work”. Saying such things will definitely hurt her even if her suggestion will not work. Instead of reducing her to the status of a mere toad, find humbler ways of declining or rejecting your house help’s opinions or suggestions where you feel they won’t work. However, strive to give her objective listening ears and hear her out from time to time.

4. When You Say Words That Disrespect Her

You always call your house help names, shout at her, give her indirect sarcastic comments, and you never say please but instead speak to her rudely and condescendingly when you need her services, making it possible for others to step on her.

“Are you going to spend the whole night cooking, your stupid girl” or “I don’t know I got stuck with a worthless person”, whenever she does things you don’t approve of. This is totally wrong and you need to stop. It pays to be polite to your lesser ones and it only reflects who you are.

5. When You Say Words That Imposes Blames on Her

The food you started cooking in the kitchen and left got burnt, your money is missing in the purse, someone spilled pap on the living room cushions, the weather is too hot. It’s always her fault.

Then you make it clear to her that she is the only one careless, untrustworthy, clumsy, or stupid enough to do so? Right everyone is a saint except her. You did not raise a thief in your house and she couldn’t be in two places enough to stop your food from burning. Don’t be unrealistic. Own up to your mistakes or at least don’t make her suffer for it.

Emotional and Psychological abuse

Emotional and Psychological abuse is any physical and nonphysical act towards your house help including confinement, isolation, insults, humiliation, intimidation, or any other treatment which may diminish her sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.

This causes her anxiety and depression making her withdraw from everyone or everything around her.

Psychological abuse will affect her inner thoughts and feelings as well as exert control over her life. She may feel anxious and unsafe at all times. Physical and verbal abuse may also result in emotional and psychological abuse.

Below are ways you are emotionally/psychologically abusing your house help.

6. When You Deny Her Access to Her Own Family

Everyone needs and deserves love and the warmth of a family they can feel safe and at total ease with. House help is not a slave.

Give your part-time or live-in-house help the benefit of attending important family occasions and holidays to go home to her family from time to time. Keeping her away from them will take away a significant part of her emotional needs.

7. When You Restrict Her From Social Activities

If she can’t join you on your family outings to fancy places because she doesn’t belong, at least let her have a few friends she can laugh and talk with intimately from time to time. Stop ignoring and then isolating your house help as if she were a plague. Include her in outings and let her have positive contact outside your home.

8. When You Make Her Feel Worthless

The super old or half-cracked plates and cups are by birthright hers. Who needs tattered clothes, just give them to her. Her toothbrush is only 2 years old. Your house help is so worthless that she doesn’t have the right to be clean. Neither does she need to own or use reasonably good things.

She is always looking unkempt because she is a dumpster for everyone’s old things. Then you stigmatize her and isolate her further for it. If you cannot give your house help expensive things, at least provide her with new and cheap or old and good cheaper ones.

Encourage her hygiene and let her sit together with the family.

9. When You Ignore Her Rights to Spiritual and Intellectual Progress

Educate your house help on western education at home if you cannot afford a school for her. Let your children also teach her. Give her freedom to attend church or go to religious schools and gatherings.

Encourage your househelp to have intellectual and spiritual progress so she can fit in the society and have confidence, worth and inner peace.

Sexual Abuse

Sexually abusing your house help come in any unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling your house help. It may also be by you insisting she acts out certain fantasies of yours against her will.

Below are ways you are sexually abusing your house help.

This goes to everybody in the house, do not touch your house helps in inappropriate places without appropriate cause or consent. refrain from looking at her intimately in a sexual way either. All this amounts to sexual abuse.

10. Giving Snug Comments which Could Give a Sexual Meaning

Do not offer to massage your house-help tired muscles. No, she probably doesn’t want to come in and see ‘something’ and she definitely doesn’t appreciate hearing she is beautiful from you.

11. Blackmailing Her to Sleep with You

Stop threatening to tell on your house help if she doesn’t agree to your sexual advances. This is a very serious form of sexual abuse and you can be charged duly for it.

12. Coercing Her to Participate in a Sexual Fantasy

Still can’t believe some couples in Northern Nigeria try to engage their house helps in weird sexual fantasies and activities ranging from threesomes to one person watching while the other two get off.

If you are doing this forcibly to your house help and threatening her not to tell, the law will be right by your door soon.

13. When You Rape Your House-help

Your house help is still not cooperating to have intercourse with you so you slip by her room when everyone is asleep and have your way with her.

You are not safe even now as you read this as this is the highest form of sexual abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when you deny your house help pay after services she has rendered you. It could also include selling her possessions without permission.

Below is how you are financially abusing your house help.

14. When You Don’t Pay Her for the Service Rendered

Your house help messed up so you decide not to pay her. She works and you just decide not to pay her because you feel she doesn’t have a family to go back to or the means to report you. Totally wrong and intense abusive behaviour.

If you have any issues to settle with your house help, sit her down amicably and discuss it but withholding payment is simply not the solution and is a type of abuse.

Discriminatory Abuse

This means an unequal treatment on your house help in comparison to other people due to her age, a disability she has, marital status, religion, or belief.

Below is how you are discriminatorily abusing your house help.

15. It’s Wrong to Mock or Maltreating Her due to Her Religion or Tribe

I trust you did not hire your house help without knowledge of her tribe or religion. Even if you did, you lack the right to maltreat or mock her because of it. Accept and treat your house help kindly and with respect wherever she may come from and whatever her beliefs if you can.

In the event that you can’t, pay for her services so far and dismiss her. There are too many discriminators in this world without you adding to the list.


If you are doing any of the above-mentioned things and you are finding it hard to address them or change your mindset, you are advised to address any abusive behaviour of someone else that is rubbing off on you, educate yourself with books on social and emotional intelligence, go for therapy and treat others as you would have them treat you.

Finally, find the humanity within you and review your mind and conscience from time to time so you treat not only Your house helps but also other people around you better.


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