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"A penny for your thoughts"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Child maid trafficking spreads to US

An undated passport photograph of Shyima Hall when she was 9-years-old .

Shyima Hall, 19, is shown on Friday, Sept. 19, 2008 in Beaumont, California.

Shyima was 10 when a wealthy Egyptian couple brought her from a poor village in northern Egypt to work in their California posh 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.
Abdelnasser Ibrahim in custody in Irvine, Calif. Ibrahim pled guilty to charges including forced labor and slavery in a case involving Shyima Hall, who worked as a servant for him and his wife in California, where she worked 20 hour days inside their posh home

On April 3, 2002, an anonymous caller phoned the California Department of Social Services to report that a young girl was living inside the garage of 28 Pacific Grove. 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. She did "chores — just like the other kids," according to the police transcript. The police put Shyima in a squad car. They noted her hands were red and caked with dead, hard-looking skin.

The windowless garage where Shyima Hall, 19, lived while forced to work as an unpaid maid is shown on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, in Irvine, California.
A common practice in Africa where families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer.
Salwa Mahmoud, 53, holds a photo of her daughter Shyima on Sept. 24, 2008. Shyima was 9 when she started working as a servant.
Shyima's mother, Salwa Mahmoud, said her father believed she would have better opportunities in America. She didn't want her to travel but their family's condition dictated that she had to go.

Around one-third of the estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States are servants trapped behind the curtains of suburban homes, according to a study by the National Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and Free the Slaves, a nonprofit group. No one can say how many are children, especially since their work can so easily be masked as chores. Once behind the walls of gated communities like this one, these children never go to school.

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.

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.

She did not agree to be interviewed for this story.

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.


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