A Brazilian woman who was enslaved from the age of eight in a household for 40 years and forced into marriage with an elderly member of the family has finally been rescued after neighbours tipped off the authorities.
“They gave her food when she was hungry, but all other rights were taken from her,” Humberto Camasmie, the inspector in charge of the rescue, told Reuters news agency.
The parents of the victim had given her up to a professor at Patos de Minas University, Unipam, when she was about 8-years-old, the labour inspector said. She was living in a small room of an apartment in Patos de Minas, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais at the time of the rescue.
The woman, now 46, has worked for the family most of her life without any kind of remittance or leave.
The clamping down of domestic slavery is difficult in Brazil because labour inspectors are required to obtain a warrant from a judge to enter a house suspected of enslaving a person. In order to get permission, the officials must produce evidence from the victim that they are being exploited.
In this case, the officials were tipped off by neighbours who received a note from the woman requesting them to buy food and hygiene products for her, as she had no money.
The officials also said that the woman was forced into a marriage with an elderly member of the family so that they continue to receive his pension after his demise.
The woman is currently in a shelter where she is being assisted by psychologists and social workers. The officials are also trying to reunite her with her biological family.
Mr Camasmie further said that the woman is now keeping the monthly pension of about R$8,000 ($1,560).
Meanwhile, the professor has been suspended by the Patos de Minas University and they are taking all the legal measures, a spokesperson told Reuters. The prosecutors are trying to strike a deal with the family to secure compensation for the victim. If found guilty in court, the accused persons could face a jail term of eight years.
A lawyer for the accused said that the family had been presented as guilty before the case went to court.
Though slavery was abolished about 130 years ago in Brazil, modern slavery has taken various forms in the country, with majority of it found in people working as domestic helps on farms and textile factories. About 53,000 workers have been rescued from slave-like conditions in the country since 1995, according to a media outlet, The Brazilian Report.
Of the 3,513 workers rescued between 2017 and 2019, only 21 were found in domestic servitude, according to Reuters. “It is very rare to receive complaints (about domestic servitude) … as most (victims) never realise they are being abused,” said labour prosecutor Ana Lucia Stumpf Gonzalez.
Though domestic workers in the country have steadily gained rights over the years as Brazil ratified the International Labour Organization convention on domestic workers in 2018, rights groups feel that coronavirus pandemic will see more domestic workers trapped with their abusive employers.
Additional reporting by the wires