Every year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of women and children are enslaved against their will in the United States. Yet this is only a portion of the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands who are trafficked and enslaved around the world yearly. What a nightmare.
Most women and children are smuggled into the USA against their will under false pretexts (we're gonna make you a model!), only to be stripped of their identification and forced to work, generally as either prostitutes or domestic servants. Of course human trafficking and slavery happens all over the world and amongst a wide array of cultures. It is not unique to any group of people.
Currently though, an unusual case on child slavery is now under way in Los Angeles, which also shines light on problems safeguarding children elsewhere on the planet. The problem, unfortunately, is that parents are often the ones to enable their children's slavery.
An Irvine man and his former wife pleaded guilty Thursday to forcing a 12-year-old illegal immigrant from Egypt to work as their domestic slave.
Under terms of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim, 45, and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, 43, each face up to three years in prison.
The girl, whose name was not released, was brought to the United States in 2000. Every morning she helped the couple's youngest children get ready for school, washed clothes, cleaned the house and prepared food. Following up on an anonymous tip, police in 2002 found the girl living in squalor in a 12-by-8-foot converted area of the family's garage.
The case shed light on a common though illegal practice in Egypt in which children from poor families are sent to work for the well-to-do. The servants, known as Khadamah, usually range in age from 9 to 18 and often are forced to sleep in kitchens.
Two of the girl's older sisters had worked in Ibrahim's home in Egypt before he moved to Irvine in 2000. Ibrahim caught one of the sisters stealing, prosecutors said. He threatened to have her charged with theft unless the girl's impoverished parents sent their 10-year-old daughter to work as his family maid in the United States. The girl's parents signed a document offering her for a "10-year sponsorship" with the family in exchange for about $30 a month, Keenan said.
"It works out well for everyone except the girl. Her parents are happy, the defendants are happy, and she has 10 years of her life flushed away," Keenan said.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern law at UCLA's School of Law, said the vast majority of Middle Eastern immigrants know that it is not acceptable to have children as live-in maids in the West.
"This has been the only case I've heard about where the family actually had the gall to bring their maid with them to the U.S.," he said. "It just seems so bizarre to me that every single member of this family would just be so clueless. They must have known other Egyptians, and also known that none of them is hiding a child live-in maid in the garage."
Although the practice of keeping children as live-in maids is still somewhat common in Egypt, Abou El Fadl said, it has come under increasing scrutiny and is slowly changing.
Clearly this case shows that there is a vast problem of bigotry based upon socio-economic status and not just between race, gender, ethnicity, etc.; and no, it's not just Egyptians that do it. The problem of human trafficking is often based upon gender lines, exploiting whichever women are available. What an old story.
The United Nations' 3rd millennium development goal seeks to empower women and promote gender equality. Their 8th is to develop a global partnership for development. Given the level of disrespect, and a pandemic desire for women and children to function as commodities for men and elitists around the world, this is going to be one tough challenge. But it can only be done if people and cultures work together.
For more information on what the US government is doing to combat human trafficking and modern day slavery, visit http://usinfo.state.gov/gi/Archive/2004/May/12-381449.html.