Watching CNN’s Freedom Project a few weeks back, I thought about how slavery never really went away. To me, it just evolved and ended up in some cases in our backyards. You heard me right. Our backyards. Right under our noses and no one really talks about it.
You see in Nigeria, my birth country (I consider myself a citizen of the world), domestic slavery isn’t a taboo. We buy or rent young girls every day and we don’t hide our slaves. Look around the mall you’ll spot one holding a baby. In church, they’re in the children section with the baby again. You’ll find them in cabs being yelled at for forgetting to do something. You’ll find them in the papers getting branded with hot irons for eating the baby’s food, wetting the bed or for nothing at all.
Domestic slaves in Nigeria are usually girls less than 14, low cut hair, rubber flip-flops, wearing rumpled oversized or undersized clothes. They aren’t hard to spot.
So we don’t confuse domestic slavery with children just running errands for people, let’s define domestic slavery.
Domestic slavery is the seemingly normal practice of live-in help that is used as cover for the exploitation and control of someone, usually from another country. Statistics from the International Labour Organization, estimates that more girls under the age of 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labour.
In Nigeria, getting children to work as domestic slaves isn’t done in the dark after an agreement for a mirror or sugar like in past. It’s in public and in exchange for money.
Women ask other women to get them an “omo-odo”. That’s the popular Yoruba word for a domestic help. When I say women, I’m talking about those with zero education to those in leadership positions. Quote my big butt anywhere.
These young girls are sourced from mostly rural areas in Nigeria and neighboring countries such as Togo and Benin Republic. They are employed by women to do housework. (The same women who are quick to brand themselves feminists and stand for Libya)
If you ask women why young girls? I’m certain you’ll get one or more of these responses:
- They are easy to control
- Less likely to steal husbands
- Unlikely to demand higher wages or better working conditions.
- A form of philanthropy. “I’m giving them a better life. Darling”.
The use of girls as domestic slaves makes me wonder like Ramazanoglu did in her book Feminism and the Contradictions of Oppression if the successes of women in achieving educational and occupational parity with men have enabled a growing minority of successful women to buy cheap domestic services from more disadvantaged women?
The irony in all of this is, how we shout about women empowerment, feminism, sitting at the table when young girls are in our homes taking care of us. So, while we talk about slavery in Libya, let’s remember the child slaves in our backyards. They need our voices too.
And if you’re a slave owner, do the right thing and let them go. Change begins with you and me.