Denmark's Au Pair Program: Cultural Exchange or Cheap Domestic Labor?

"Au pair" is a French term that means “at par” or on "on equal terms." It is a cultural exchange program where the au pair has a chance to live in another country and immerse herself in a different culture and learn a new language. In exchange for doing light chores for the host family, the au pair will get free board and lodging and a modest allowance that will fund language classes and cultural immersion.

But for many people—especially those in transitioning economies—the motivation to be an au pair is more economic relief rather than cultural immersion.

The Philippines is one of the countries that participates in the au pair program with Europe, but the Philippines banned the au pair program in 1998 after reports of abuse and exploitation—the program appeared to be a cultural exchange only on paper. In practice, it was access to cheap childcare without the usual labor protections for the au pair.

The ban was lifted in 2010 after Switzerland, Denmark and Norway forged bilateral agreements with the Philippine government offering more social protection to au pairs.

In this project, Ana Santos and Allison Shelley examine the au pair exchange program between the Philippines and Denmark. Estimates show that about 70 percent of all au pairs in Denmark are Filipinos. Denmark is the top destination country for Filipino au pairs followed by Norway.

Denmark: The Woman Who Could Make Migrants Fly

“Nagpapalipad” is what Iluminada Panabe’s service is called in whispers. The literal translation is “to make one fly” but it is code for flying into Europe without the intention of ever leaving.