Friday, July 18, 2008

"$6,000. I was bought for that price": A South African's testimony

I grew up in a small South African village. I went to college, and became a teacher after graduating. When the government planned to redeploy teachers, I was forced to look elsewhere. I had always dreamed of traveling to different countries, so friends suggested I apply for nanny positions.

A friend introduced me to a woman named Sarah, who offered to arrange a potential nanny position. She promised that it would pay $300 weekly, require less than 40 hours of work a week, and allow me to attend school. I saved for a few months to pay the fee Sarah required, which was twice my monthly salary. When I called back, a man named Francisco returned my message. He told me where to deposit my money, and then directed me to come to Cape Town where he made arrangements for my departure.

I flew to the United States and arrived at Dulles International Airport where my new employers, Pat and her husband David, picked me up and took me to their home. They showed me to my room in the basement. Soon after, Pat explained my new job responsibilities. I was shocked to learn how different they were from those described to me by Sarah in South Africa.

What was supposed to be only daytime childcare turned out to be 24-7 on-call domestic servitude. At 7:00 a.m. I was to get their three kids ready for school. Then, I was to spend about seven hours cleaning the house, making all the beds, scrubbing the bathrooms,doing the laundry, ironing clothes, and a long list of other domestic chores. Around 3:00 p.m. I was to pick the kids up from school, watch them, and keep the house tidy. At 8:00 p.m., the kids went to bed, but I often was assigned other tasks.

I was paid a mere $140 per week, $1.75 hourly if you divide that over 80 hours. In addition, Pat and David monitored all of my calls, and threatened to have me deported or arrested if I reached out to anyone outside the home for help. I could not go back to South Africa because David took my passport and return ticket, demanding that I first repay the $6,000 he spent for me to come to the United States.

$6,000. I was bought for that price.

Nevertheless, I genuinely loved the three children I cared for. Through them I met Elizabeth, a nanny in the neighbourhood who encouraged me to escape. One day, I broke into my employers' bedroom and found my passport. Then I called Elizabeth, who took me to a motel in a small town in rural Maryland. After hiding there for a month, I stayed in random people's homes, and sometimes became homeless for a few days at a time to avoid staying with men who demanded sexual favours from me in return for shelter. There were days when I did not eat, did not sleep, and felt like my world was falling apart. Life lasted like this for months.

Fortunately, a service provider referred me to the Tahirih Justice Center. Tahirih arranged for a wonderful and caring team of pro bono attorneys at Howrey LLP to help me prepare an application for a T visa, which specifically addresses trafficking cases like mine.

In April 2007 I received my visa. Then I got my work permit. I met with Tahirih's social worker, and she helped me to pay for nursing school classes. I look forward to becoming a professional in the healthcare field. I enjoy caring for people. It is a slow process but with the support of my friends and family, including my Tahirih family, I am beginning to recover from my traumatic journey.

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Tahirih Justice Center 6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 220 Falls
Church, VA 22041- 703-575-0070; 703-575-0069(f) email:

This article was taken from the latest edition of IOM's Southern African Counter-Trafficking Assistance Programme's (SACTAP) quarterly bulletin of news, information and analysis on the subject of trafficking in persons in the region, called the EYE on Human Trafficking. Issue 18 of the EYE on Human Trafficking is available online.

This issue contains articles on a radio drama in Mozambique on human trafficking, a study on the high levels of psychological distress among trafficked women, a feature on the role of faith-based organisations in protecting victims of human trafficking, training seminars in Angola to build law enforcement capacity to combat human trafficking, an article on the SADC Ratings of the 2008 US TIP report, and conclusions and recommendations from the MIDSA workshop.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:14 PM

    my mom sold me for 20 dollars when i was 7 and i love it