Last summer, during the Lebanon war, I wrote on my blog about Filippina maids who died or were injured jumping out of windows to escape employers who had locked them up to keep them from seeking repatriation to the Philippines. I labled them “Rapunzels”, after the fairy tale of a girl locked in a tower who managed to escape.
It’s a dirty little secret in the Philippines that some of the women who become maids end up forced into prostitution; others merely have their passports confiscated, their doors locked, are forced to work without time off, and may not be paid their salary. It’s a problem the Philippine government is constantly trying to stop by screening recruiters and keeping track of our OFW (overseas foreign workers), but when extreme poverty forces women to work, they will go outside of these protections to support their families at home.
But exploiting maids is merely the tip of an iceberg of modern day slavery. According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, the UN estimates that there are 27 million people in unpaid servitude, 200 000 in the USA.
Most of the slaves in the US are women in forced prostitution, but world wide it not only includes the sex trade, but also in agriculture, children drafted by groups as soldiers, families forced to work to pay off debts, and those like my “Rapunzels”, who have legal jobs but then are intimidated or forced to work long hours for little or no pay, often having their passports confiscated or their pay withheld by employers who threaten to report them as criminals to the local police if they cause trouble.
So what can one person do?
Well, the new movie Amazing Grace the story of British Abolitionist is being used to educate people both of the history of slavery, and about how to fight modern slavery.
The CSMonitor article tells the story of a boy,Zach Hunter who heard the story of modern slaves and started collecting change to stop it.
His organization, The Amazing Change, is linking with the movie and with other anti slavery organizations and has a petition on line for interested people to sign.
Maybe if enough people become interested we won’t continue to read stories like THIS:Tumalon ako sa balcony sa first floor. Nilagay ko ‘yung foam na higaan ko pero ang impact sa paa ko (I jumped from the balcony of the first floor. I used a foam mattress as cushion but the impact hit my feet),” Flores said.
Barbin, meanwhile, said she had no other way but to jump off her employer’s home.
The reported injuries of the three Filipinas followed the cases of two other workers repatriated from the war-torn country on Tuesday.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket