December 29, 2008

The Slave Next Door

I found this over on Mock Paper Scissors in an entry dated 12/28. Thanks Betsy--I guess.
Shyima was 10 when a wealthy Egyptian couple brought her from a poor village in northern Egypt to work in their California home. She awoke before dawn and often worked past midnight to iron their clothes, mop the marble floors and dust the family's crystal. She earned $45 a month working up to 20 hours a day. She had no breaks during the day and no days off.
The trafficking of children for domestic labor in the U.S. is an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. . . . Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer.

Around one-third of the estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States are servants trapped behind the curtains of suburban homes . . . .
The family brought [Shyima] back to their spacious five-bedroom, two-story home [in Irvine, California], decorated in the style of a Tuscan villa with a fountain of two angels spouting water through a conch. She was told to sleep in the garage.

It had no windows and was neither heated nor air-conditioned. Soon after she arrived, the garage's only light bulb went out. The Ibrahims didn't replace it. From then on, Shyima lived in the dark.

While doing the family's laundry, she slipped her own clothes into the load. Madame slapped her. "She told me my clothes were dirtier than theirs. That I wasn't allowed to clean mine there," she said.

She washed her clothes [hand-me-down t-shirts] in a bucket and hung them on a line next to the trash bins.

It never occurred to her to run away.
"I thought this was normal," she said.
Tens of thousands of children in Africa, some as young as 3, are recruited every year to work as domestic servants. They are on call 24 hours a day and are often beaten if they make a mistake. Children are in demand because they earn less than adults and are less likely to complain. In just one city— Casablanca — a 2001 survey by the Moroccan government found more than 15,000 girls under 15 working as maids.

"In most homes, these girls are not allowed to use so much as the same spoon as the rest of the family," said Hany Helal, the Cairo-based director of the Egyptian Organization for

If you could fly the garage where Shyima slept 7,000 miles to the sandy alleyway where her Egyptian family now lives, it would pass for the best home in the neighborhood.
The garage's walls are made of concrete instead of hand-patted bricks. Its roof doesn't leak. Its door shuts all the way.
On April 3, 2002, an anonymous caller phoned the California Department of Social Services.
A few days later, Nasser Ibrahim opened the door to a detective from the Irvine Police Department. Asked if any children lived there beside his own, he first said no, then yes — "a distant relative." He said he had "not yet" enrolled her in school.

The police put Shyima in a squad car. They noted her hands were red and caked with dead, hard-looking skin.

The couple pleaded guilty to all charges, including forced labor and slavery. They were ordered to pay $76,000, the amount Shyima would have earned at the minimum wage. The sentence: Three years in federal prison for Ibrahim, 22 months for his wife, and then deportation for both.

"I don't think that there is any other term you could use than modern-day slavery," said Bob Schoch, the special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, in describing Shyima's situation.
EPILOGUE: On a recent afternoon in Cairo, Madame Amal walked into the lobby of her apartment complex wearing designer sunglasses and a chic scarf. After nearly two years in a U.S. prison cell, she's living once more in the spacious apartment where Shyima first worked as her maid. The apartment is adorned in the style of a Louis XIV palace, with ornately carved settees, gold-leaf vases and life-sized portraits of her and her husband. Before the door closed behind her, a little girl slipped in carrying grocery bags. She wore a shabby T-shirt. Her small feet slapped the floor in loose flip-flops. Her eyes were trained on the ground. She looked to be around 9 years old.

Click here for the rest of the story along with a video of Shyima.

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