Malaw­ian house­maid wins US hu­man traf­fick­ing case

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Malaw­ian woman traf­ficked to the United States by a diplo­mat, con­fined to a house for three years and forced to work long hours for lit­tle pay has been awarded $1 mil­lion in dam­ages in a hu­man traf­fick­ing law­suit against her for­mer em­ployer. Fai­ness Lipenga be­gan work­ing for Jane Kam­bal­ame as a house­maid in her Malawi home in 2002, ac­cord­ing to the case mem­o­ran­dum. When Kam­bal­ame ac­cepted a diplo­matic po­si­tion at the Malaw­ian em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton in 2004, she asked Lipenga to move with her.

“I was so ex­cited,” Lipenga told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in a phone in­ter­view. “She (Kam­bal­ame) told me that I could fin­ish my ed­u­ca­tion in the US and that she would help me find an­other job.” She signed a con­tract writ­ten in English, which she did not fully un­der­stand, which stated Lipenga would be paid $980 per month for work­ing 35 hours per week and would be paid over­time. But the re­al­ity was quite dif­fer­ent. For the first few months she re­ceived noth­ing, and af­ter that was paid be­tween $100 and $180 per month.

“She made me work from 5.30 am to 11 pm on most days, and I had to sleep on the base­ment floor,” said Lipenga. “She said I couldn’t sleep in a room up­stairs like the fam­ily be­cause I would make them sick.” Nearly 21 mil­lion peo­ple are vic­tims of forced la­bor glob­ally, 1.5 mil­lion of them in de­vel­oped coun­tries like the United States, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO). Over half are women and girls. Forced la­bor among mi­grant do­mes­tic work­ers in par­tic­u­lar is widespread, with women ex­ploited even be­fore they have left their home coun­try and later abused by their em­ploy­ers abroad.

In 2006 Kam­bal­ame in­stalled a lock on the door of the fam­ily home in Wash­ing­ton DC, con­fin­ing her do­mes­tic ser­vant to the house, Lipenga said. “She lis­tened on the phone when­ever I talked to my fam­ily, and would dis­con­nect it when she left the house - I was trapped,” she said. Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Kam­bal­ame sub­jected Lipenga to psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, such as by hu­mil­i­at­ing her in front of vis­i­tors and threat­en­ing to de­port her. “She told me: ‘I’m a diplo­mat, you’ll never get me in trou­ble’,” Lipenga said.“I just be­lieved her.”


Lipenga man­aged to es­cape the Kam­bal­ame house­hold in 2007. “I thought: I will die if I stay here, they will take my body and dump it in the trash,” she said. “I stole my pass­port and my con­tract when the fam­ily were out of the house, and left in the morn­ing when they were sleep­ing - I could not stop shak­ing.” Lipenga was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal and di­ag­nosed with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and de­pres­sion, which had gone un­treated for years. — Reuters

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