Lifting the lid on a decade of domestic slavery in Ireland
‘Maria’ recently emerged from a 10-year ordeal, the longest case yet discovered in Ireland. Her experience suggests we have poor supports for dealing with such cases
“Maria”: “I didn’t know what to do.’ Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
‘Maria”, from west Africa, has recently come out of the longest case of domestic slavery to have come to light here. She has asked that her name not be used as her case is the subject of a Garda investigation.
Until 18 months ago, she had for 10 years looked after three children. She cooked for them and their parents, cleaned their clothes and their home. She bathed the children, toilet-trained them, put them to bed at night, got them up in the morning, brought them to school, made their lunches, played with them and, at night, slept on cushions on their bedroom floor.
The woman, who is now in her 30s, never had a day off through her 20s. She only ever had a few hours to herself each week to go to church, and she was never paid.
Sitting in the offices of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) in Dublin this week, she speaks quietly, telling how, as the eldest in her family, she was attracted to a friend’s offer of work in Europe.
“She said she knew a woman who needed help looking after children. She told my father she would take care of me and send me to school. I had no clue where I was going. We arrived late at night in Dublin, and then we had a long drive.”
She was brought to a two-bedroom apartment where, for the next decade, she would work for a couple from the same part of her country. The mother, to whom she reported, is a professional and the father was away a lot.
“She used to leave in the morning and come back in the night. There were two children, a baby and a toddler. I cooked and cleaned. I was allowed to eat after them, and I cleaned up after dinner.”
She got to bed about midnight. The boy would wake at about 6am.
After a few months, she told the woman she wanted to go home. “She was angry. She started slapping me, said she had paid a lot of money for me to come and work. She said she would tell the police and I would go to jail.” She had Maria’s passport. When Maria asked for it back, or when she didn’t understand instructions, she said the woman beat her.
“No one talked to me in the house, only to tell me what to do. Her friends when they came, they didn’t talk to me. I didn’t talk to anyone outside. Only the children talked to me. When she beat me, they were crying and begging her to stop.”