Shyima Hall was only 10 years old when she was taken from her home in Northern Egypt and brought to work as a domestic slave in Irvine, California.
Shyima grew up in a remote village in Egypt, where she lived with her family. In 2000, her mother contacted a maid recruiter, who found Shyima a job working for the Ibrahim family in Cairo. For a year, Shyima lived with the Ibrahims and worked for very little pay, until the Ibrahims decided to leave. Shyima’s family had taken several loans from the Ibrahims for medical bills, which they were unable to repay. With her parents' consent, the Ibrahims took Shyima with them to California to live in their garage and work for $45 a month as a maid.
Shyima worked for the Ibrahims until April 3rd, 2002 when an anonymous caller phoned the California Department of Social Services to report that a young girl had been spotted living inside the Ibrahim’s garage. For several years, Shyima had been confined to the garage, which was without lighting or ventilation, only allowed out to cook and clean. Shyima was eventually taken into custody, where she lied to investigators for months, telling them only what the Ibrahims had instructed her to say. In 2006, the Ibrahims were brought to trail, where they pleaded guilty to all charges, including forced labor and slavery. They were ordered to pay Shyima $76,000 and sentenced to several years in prison.
Yesterday, Shyima’s story was featured on MSNBC in an article on the recent spread of human trafficking. This type of forced labor is illegal, but common in Africa, and as more families move to America, they import the custom. Despite the increased media attention, the U.S. State Department has no idea how many children are working illegally as maids in American homes. The closest estimate places 10,000 forced laborers in the United States, but there is no way of knowing how many of these are children. Shyima, now 19, has been adopted by a foster family, and she plans to someday become a police officer.