This qualitative study was aimed at looking into the lived experiences of child domestic workers in the selected towns of Gedeo Zone. A triangulation of key informant interviews, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, informal conversations, non-participant observations, and life histories were employed to collect the required data from child domestic workers, brokers, urban residents, police officers, and officials and experts in concerned government offices. The finding reveals that poverty and parental death are among the principal factors that coerce children to join the sector. Being a solitary decision for a few, engaging in this sector is not a personal decision for many child domestic workers. Letting one or more child (ren) engage in domestic work in urban areas is often adopted by poor rural and urban families as a survival strategy. The decision of the families to send their children for domestic work is often mediated by brokers. With regard to the terms of employment of the child domestic workers, all interviewed child domestic workers were working without any written contract with their employers. Though the lived experiences of the interviewed child domestic workers were heterogeneous, most reported long working hours, poor remuneration, deduction, delay and denial of salary, denial of contact with family and friends, uncomfortable living arrangements, denial of access to education, and physical, verbal, psychological and sexual abuses to characterize their daily lives. As poverty was found to be the prominent reason for most child domestic workers to join the sector, the researchers suggest the integrated interventions of stakeholders to scale up the capabilities of rural and urban poor households thereby preventing children from entering into the sector. Furthermore, enforcing the existing legal frameworks related to child labor and enacting additional responsive regulations on child domestic work is imperative to protect those who are already in the sector.
Key words: Abuse, child domestic workers, families, Gedeo, lived experiences, poverty.