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L.A. is a hub for domestic slavery

February 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
As many as 17,000 human slaves are trafficked into the United States every year. Los Angeles is a prime destination. With the city's diverse culture, people from foreign countries blend in. They blend in in agriculture, in sweatshops, and they blend in as the domestic slave next door.The family who bought an 8-year-old girl for a domestic slave does not live in their house any more, but the home is still impressively big in an Irvine guard-gated community. A garage door hides the place where the girl lived.

The Egyptian girl slept inside the garage when she wasn't working a 16-hour day. In Egypt, Shyima was sold to cover a theft an older sister was accused of.

"I went there with my mom to visit and I never went back home," said Shyima.

Now age 20, Shyima can talk about the experience. She was a 10-year-old housekeeper. She cooked and cleaned for the family's five children, who emigrated from Egypt and had Shyima smuggled along to continue working for them, while she slept on a filthy mattress and had to wash her clothes with dish soap.

"Every country has outlawed slavery, and yet it's still taking place and, in fact, is growing," said Kay Buck, executive director, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).

Buck cites the number of people working with little or no pay at 27 million worldwide.

"It's really the human rights issue of the 21st century," said Buck.

A neighbor finally called authorities three years ago, concerned about the little girl who was always working and never went to school.

Abel Ibraham was convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison and deported. His now ex-wife, Amal Motlieb, served nearly two years, and she was deported. They were ordered to pay Shyima $76,000 for the two years she was their slave.

When asked when she finally realized it was wrong, Shyima said, "When I finally got taken away, and when they told me this is not legal here."

Fear keeps modern day slaves from running away, fear that facing the law will be worse.

"She said that the police would arrest me and put me in jail and a lot of bad people that could rape me," said Ima Matul, a former domestic slave. Ima was a 16-year-old slave from Indonesia working without pay as a nanny when she finally got help escaping.

She recently joined a panel on Eyewitness Newsmakers to speak out.

"I feel powerful to tell my story," said Ima.

The little girl who was a domestic slave wants to join that army and work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"ICE, yes, I'm going right into ICE for all immigration, helping with human trafficking and being out there to rescue others and be part of it," said Shyima.

She is Shyima Hall, adopted by a loving family. She's a college student with a bright future.

The Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force has a hotline to assist victims and prosecute traffickers: (800) 655-4095.

For more information about the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), visit www.castla.org


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