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Invisible Girls

Building the evidence to prevent and respond to child domestic work

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The Invisible Girls research programme aims to raise the visibility and voices of child domestic workers. This programme is designed to generate intervention-focused evidence to guide programming and policies that reduce the number of girls entering domestic work and promote a brighter future for current child domestic workers. 

The Gender, Violence & Health Centre (GVHC) at LSHTM, are working closely with the Millby Foundation and international and local partners in South-East Asia, to develop truly feasible and affordable responses to support girls in domestic work.


The Invisible Girls research portfolio consists of wide range of activities to develop the evidence base for future work on child domestic work. The work included evidence synthesis, scoping and mapping work, secondary data analyses, development of measurement tools and conceptual frameworks to inform intervention development.

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Child domestic work

Global estimates suggest that 17.2 million children are engaged in domestic work, most of whom are girls. Child domestic workers frequently work extremely long hours, rarely attend school and may suffer physical, verbal and sometimes sexual abuse and the mental and physical health consequences.

Despite the prevalence, there are currently few interventions to support children and adolescents who are in domestic work. We use intervention development research and evaluation methods to help design and test interventions for these hard-to-reach or invisible girls.

Our aims

The Invisible Girls programme aims to reduce harm associated with child domestic work and improve the context and opportunities for working children to learn, gain skills and increase their opportunities to secure safe, healthy future lives and livelihoods. Our goals include:

  • Develop an evidence base to support effective interventions to improve the health and safety and future life prospects for child domestic workers.
  • Increase the number of child domestic workers engaging in effective interventions that promote a safe and healthy future.
  • Shift the social contract for child domestic work to improve the perception and treatment of child domestic workers.
  • Instigate greater research and scholarship on child domestic work.
  • Facilitate collaboration between organisations to meet the health, learning and protection needs of children in domestic work.
  • Promote targeted funding, improved policies and programming that focus specifically on the needs of child domestic work.
Who we are
Team Block

Professor Cathy Zimmerman leads the Invisible Girls project under the Millby Foundation Research Programme on violence against women and girls in Southeast Asia. She is co-founder of the Gender Violence & Health Centre at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and her research focusses on child domestic workers, human trafficking, exploitation and gender-based violence. She is the author of the World Health Organization’s WHO Recommendations for Interviewing Trafficked Women and Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Providers by the International Organization for Migration and LSHTM.


Assistant Professor

Meghna Ranganathan is an Assistant Professor of Social Epidemiology at LSHTM and is a co-investigator of the Invisible Girls programme. In this role she is responsible for co-leading and developing the programme of research that informs intervention development, in partnership with colleagues in Myanmar.  She has conducted both quantitative and qualitative research exploring the linkages between social protection interventions, such as cash transfers and the impacts on sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence in low and middle-income countries. She is a Global Steering Committee member of the World Health Organisation’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), and is affiliated with the Gender Violence Health Centre at LSHTM and the cash transfers and intimate partner violence (IPV) collaborative, a multi-disciplinary international group of researchers focused on evaluating the gendered impacts of social safety net programmes.  


Honorary Associate Professor

Ligia originally trained in social sciences and anthropology, with a MPhil and PhD on Preventive Medicine. Her work includes research and intervention evaluation in Latin America, Asia and Africa, with a focus on trafficking in persons, violence, and migration and health. 

Aye Myat Thi

Aye Myat Thi

Co-investigator, Myanmar

Aye Myat Thi is a medical doctor with training in public health, with an MBBS in Myanmar and MPH from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. She was a programme manager for the community based MDR-TB project in Myanmar leading the scale up of community based TB and HIV care projects. She has been involved in operational research projects conducted by the Union and National TB/AIDS Control programs. She served as a programme coordinator for TB-malnutrition inpatient study, a collaborative project between San Lazaro Hospital, Manila, the Philippines and Nagasaki University, Japan. In her current role as a Senior Research Associate at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) Myanmar, she is a co-investigator, Myanmar, of the Invisible Girls research programme which aims to generate evidence base to improve future and livelihood of child domestic workers. 


Professional Services
Communications Officer

Sam is the Communications Officer for the Invisible Girls research programme at LSHTM. Prior to joining LSHTM, she was a Communications Officer at UCL, helping to translate research and knowledge into real-world impact. She has held roles in the policy and charity sector in the UK focussed on supporting disadvantaged children, and worked directly with children as a clinical Speech and Language Therapist.

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A girl carrying a young child in Myanmar.  Photo: Tom Cheatham / World Bank
Photo: Tom Cheatham / World Bank
Key considerations for child domestic work interventions
Complexity framework for child domestic workers

Child domestic work is a complex social phenomenon. Interventions to support youth in domestic work require multi-faceted interventions that recognise the various social and structural influences. Important considerations when undertaking coordinated action to improve the current conditions and future life prospects of children in domestic work include addressing multiple components of the social ecology of child domestic work.  

Historical practices, community norms and public attitudes: Historical local practices generally set the standards for current social norms and public attitudes on child domestic work. How society views the role of children in domestic work and the obligations of the employers or host households determines the treatment of young workers. Shifting public beliefs about the social contract between young workers and host households can create substantial social pressure for hosts or employers to improve young people’s working conditions and encourage educational or skills opportunities.

Child labour and child protection instruments, laws and regulations:
Laws and regulations are the scaffolding upon which these types of interventions are built. However, while it is tempting to prevent child domestic work by enforcing strict laws against child labour, it is also important not to punish poor families by removing a relatively safe coping strategy or pull youth out of situations that may be better, safer than their original circumstances. When considering policy and legislative interventions, careful planning must take place to prevent inadvertent harm that strict – or weak – regulations might create.

Kinship ties and labour intermediaries: ‘Kinship ties’ and ‘labour intermediaries’ are common links that facilitate the placement of a young person with a host or employing household. These informal or formal brokers generally negotiate placements that adhere to the socially accepted power dynamics in which youth are considered fortunate to have these positions and hosts determine the young person’s terms and conditions. If encouraged to broker better arrangements, these individuals are in a very good position to negotiate better agreements that, for example, ensure youth attend school or vocational training programmes, undertake safe, age-appropriate tasks during reasonable hours, and are encouraged to socialise with other young people.

Labour market conditions: Interventions to improve young people’s vocational skills and job-readiness will rely on evidence on locally viable future income opportunities, trades or occupations that are safe, and sufficiently well-paid. It is of little use to train young people in skills that will not generate a liveable income or will lead them into hazardous work. Youth will also benefit from support for self-confidence-building, understanding of their rights and laws and guidance on financial literacy. Given the dominance of the informal labour market in low income settings, youth will benefit from activities that increase their financial management, entrepreneurial skills, as well as their confidence and decision-making skills. Gender equity and girls’ empowerment will be especially important to address the widespread disempowerment of girls in child domestic work.

School, vocational training and life skills programming:  Whether youth in domestic work go to school or engage in vocational training or other skill-building activities is influenced by: i) local customs of child domestic workers attending school; which will influence whether ii) host households permit youth the time to participate; which depends on whether iii) there are available programs that suit the availability and learning levels of the young person. Interventions for young workers must be suited to their learning levels, educational and skills needs and, importantly, their work circumstances and demands and restrictions of the host household.

Employing or host households: A child domestic worker may have kinship ties to the host household, where the host sees their role as assisting poorer relatives. Or, hosts may be employers with a more formal worker-employee arrangement. In either case, the social contract between the young worker and host commonly adheres to the community norms. Intervening with host households will work more effectively if accompanied by efforts to shift wider beliefs on child domestic work towards those that consider it ‘normal’ for young workers to go to school or vocational training or take part in life-skills interventions. Strategies to negotiate with hosts are often necessary to youth’s participation in educational or other interventions.
Measurement of child domestic work and child labour

Measuring child domestic work can be challenging, especially in general household surveys. Child domestic workers may be misidentified as ‘fostered’ or overlooked as workers.  Our briefing note and corresponding journal article describe current prevalence estimates for selected Southeast Asian countries, highlight questions used to ascertain prevalence and note current instrument limitations.

Child domestic work and abuse

Child domestic workers are especially vulnerable to various health, safety and child development risks, such as occupational hazards, long work hours, verbal harassment, physical abuse and, in some cases, sexual abuse. Findings from our rapid systematic review on outcomes associated with child domestic work aim to guide potential interventions to support the health and well-being of children in domestic work. Results are summarized in our briefing note and journal article.

Employers of child domestic workers

Employers of child domestic workers set children’s work conditions, which determine their health, safety and well-being. Our briefing note and corresponding scoping report describe how employers view their household helpers and their perceptions of the challenges, benefits and responsibilities of employing young people and employers’ opinions about potential interventions to support girls’ education, vocational training and life skills support.


Interventions for child domestic workers

Children in domestic work are frequently isolated and cut off from education, social life and assistance options. To date, there has been little evidence about the effectiveness of activities specifically targeted to reach child domestic workers. Our briefing note and journal article offer the results of our systematic review of published literature on evaluations of interventions for child domestic workers.

Service mapping

Given the limited interventions focused currently on child domestic work, globally and the absence of services in Myanmar, we mapped local referral resources to support the safe conduct of research with youth, ascertain potential intervention partners for intervention development and to start to build an advocacy network. Our briefing note and corresponding report describe the variety of services that are potentially suited to meet the various needs of child domestic workers in Myanmar.  

Ethical and safeguarding guidance for co-produced research with youth on youth in risk situations

While there has been a growing body of guidance for ethical research with youth, to date, there has been little to no research to test and evaluate guidance specifically for research about young people in risk situations that is co-produced with youth. This briefing note describes our current research to develop and test in multiple in multiple regions an ethical and safeguarding protocol for research with youth in risk situations. 

Invisible Girls Publications
Child Domestic Work, Violence, and Health Outcomes: A Rapid Systematic Review
Thi, A.M.; Zimmerman, C.; Pocock, N.S.; Chan, C.W.; Ranganathan, M.
International journal of environmental research and public health. 2022, 19, 427.
Evaluations of Interventions with Child Domestic Workers: A Rapid Systematic Review
Kyegombe N, Pocock NS, Chan CW, Blagbrough J, Zimmerman C.
International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021 Sep 25;18(19):10084. doi: 10.3390/ijerph181910084.
Suitability of Measurement Tools for Assessing the Prevalence of Child Domestic Work: A Rapid Systematic Review
Pocock, N. S., Chan, C. W., & Zimmerman, C.
International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021 18(5), 2357.
Are Child Domestic Workers Worse Off than Their Peers? Comparing Children in Domestic Work, Child Marriage, and Kinship Care with Biological Children of Household Heads: Evidence from Zimbabwe
Ronald Musizvingoza, Jonathan Blagbrough, Nicola Suyin Pocock
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022 Jun 16;19(12):7405. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19127405
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Established foundational evidence to develop targeted interventions to improve the lives and livelihoods of child domestic workers

Among the most substantial aims of our current research is to generate the body of evidence required to develop well-targeted and effective interventions to support the health, well-being and future livelihoods of children in domestic work. Our current findings are supporting the development of two core intervention components: 

  1. Targeted campaigns to shift the public and host-family beliefs about the social contract for child domestic work; and
  2. combined economic and social intervention model to reach children in domestic work
Provided the first-ever global evidence-base on interventions that support child domestic workers to guide program and funding decisions

Findings from our systematic review provide the first evidence on interventions that have been evaluated support children in domestic work to inform future programming and policy-making. Results indicate that interventions have attempted to improve the health, financial literacy and education of child domestic workers. However, there is currently very limited rigorous findings about ‘what works’ to foster a promising future for child domestic workers.

Improved the global measurement of the health and safety of working children

Our work on the ILO measurement for the SIMPOC survey resulted in two new survey modules for the International Labour Organization’s international child labour surveys (SIMPOC). These two new modules: i) Occupational Health and Safety; and ii) Violence, will be used in all future national surveys on child labour.

Increased attention and funding to child domestic work

Based on our research and international engagement, the Invisible Girls programme has raised the profile of child domestic work with key donors, including the US government, which launched several funding calls focused on child domestic work.  To date, the State Department is supporting research and interventions on child domestic work in Morocco, Ethiopia, Liberia and Nigeria.

Galvanised Freedom Fund to launch their dedicated programme on child domestic work

We began our Invisible Girls programme by collaborating with the Freedom Fund, which has motivated the Freedom Fund to establish their own programme and dedicated funding to address child domestic work. We remain a partner and have an advisory role on their current work in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Liberia, sharing research findings, programming ideas and intervention plans.

Stimulated and co-developed the ILO’s new ethical guidance for surveys on child labour (SIMPOC) that will be used by National Statistics Offices globally

Based on the work we undertook for the International Labour Organization’s international child labour survey, we worked with the ILO team in Geneva to identify a need for ethical guidance for their survey on child labour. Following discussions, the ILO issued a call for proposals to research and draft this guidance document and a call for Ethical Guidance for their global survey on Human Trafficking and Forced Labour. Dr. Kyegombe and Prof Zimmerman were advisors for each of these projects with Samuel Hall Research Group.

Increased attention to the health implications of child labour

Our analysis of UNICEF data identified the relationship between hazard levels in child labour and mental health, social outcomes and school drop-out rates, which will increase attention to the health protection and service needs of children in domestic work. For our future intervention and for  policy-makers, finding that the more hours a child works, the greater the risk to psychosocial well-being and likelihood of very poor educational attainment, can provide evidence for more stringent regulations specifically for children in domestic work.

Improving research methods to design intervention prototypes for overlooked populations and under-developed intervention areas

Our research for the Invisible Girls programme is advancing Intervention Development Research (IDR) methods, which are intended to generate evidence to inform the design of effective interventions for challenges that have, to date, received limited attention or achieved limited success. These methods have been picked up by the US State Department and will be used in their upcoming Notice of Funding Opportunity on human trafficking.  

Publications and briefing notes

Link to publications and briefing notes pages

Conference presentations and keynote lectures

Aye Thiri Kyaw (2022). Generating Evidence to Support the Elimination of Child Labour, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking conference: Opening the “black box” of protection and reintegration interventions for trafficking survivors in Myanmar: A realist focused evaluation of World Vision’s Anti-trafficking in Persons (A/TIP) program

Nicola Pocock (2022). Generating Evidence to Support the Elimination of Child Labour, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking conference: Providing conceptually grounded insights on modifiable determinants of trafficking-related outcomes to inform a counter-trafficking Behaviour Change Campaign in Haiti.

Cathy Zimmerman (2022). Human Trafficking Research to Action (RTA) conference: Intervention Development Science: Do we need it? What would it do?