Egypt is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation. Egyptian children are recruited for domestic and agricultural labour with some of these children facing conditions indicative of involuntary servitude such as restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats and physical or sexual abuse. Families in remote villages across Africa send their children to work in cities for extra money, a custom that has led to the spread of trafficking as wealthy Africans accustomed to employing children immigrate to the US. It is estimated that 10 000 forced labourers in the US are trapped in domestic servitude.
Shyima was just 8 years old when her family sold her into slavery to settle a debt. She was then smuggled into the US and held as a domestic slave in California. She was denied medical care, proper nutrition, an education, and her childhood
Hello everybody, I’m so sorry I’m late it was the flight I promise. [laughs] let’s see erm well my name is Shyima Hall, I’m going to begin telling you guys who I am and why I do this, and erm in the end, if you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to ask me.
Let’s see erm, like I said my name is Shyima Hall, erm I was a victim of human trafficking and I’m here to share my story with you guys, I was born in Egypt, I was also number 7 of 11 kids, big family. Erm I had a family of erm, they were very poor family, but it was a happy family and I was okay with it. My childhood was in Egypt, a very nice childhood. I had friends, I had my brother and sisters, family, erm it was a wonderful experience for me [laughs]. Erm I had a sister that worked for a family in Egypt. She was the oldest of my family, of the kids. She was actually at twin of two girls erm, let’s see erm, before I go into her job and what she did, erm let you know that Egypt law for labour work is when you’re age 14, boy or a girl, you’re allowed to work, your parents is allowed to marry you to whoever they think is suitable for you. Erm and er, you’re a grown person by age 14. Let’s see she worked for a family in Egypt as a maid by choice, she chose to work for them, she was, it was her job. Just like us going to work in the morning but she lived with them. One day she decided to steal money from them. And erm when she stole money from them, erm she ran away after that, they called my parents, my mum showed up to the family’s house. And let explain to you guys, the family’s house is or who they, how they are. They’re a very very wealthy family. Erm their house is probably half of this campus, that’s how wealthy they are. Erm they had 5 kids, 3 girls and two boys, twins. Erm they erm, very powerful people in Egypt. Let’s see so she worked for that family and when they called my mum in, they said hey, you’re daughter stole money from us and we want to be repaid or we’re going to send her to jail. So as a mother’s first instinct in her case she said, oh you know, here’s my daughter in her, in her spot. And erm, she will repay all her money by erm, by working for you guys. They said that’s great. She’d young, we can teach her, erm everything we want to the way we wanted to, and she wouldn’t talk back. Erm so that was a great thing for them, that I was 8 years old at the time. Even though it was still against Egypt law, it was fine by them. So my job was to, pretty much was to take my sister’s spot. And to repay her debt.
Erm, I stayed with the family for almost a year and a half in Egypt. My job was to wash dishes, erm help around with the twins which were the youngest two boys they had, erm clean around the house, do what I was supposed to do, been told to do. Erm my, my family didn’t even contact me throughout those years. Maybe once, and that’s because as a kid I cried and I missed them. And then they got hold of them. I wasn’t the only person that worked for them in Egypt, they had other people in the house as well, actually about maybe 5 to 7 other people that worked there, but they were all adults. All by choice. Erm two, a year and a half afterwards passed, and they decided that they were erm gonna move to the US because erm they had got in some trouble with the government in Egypt. When they decided to go to the US they said hey, you’re daughter hasn’t finished her debt. She belongs to us still. And erm, again my parents said yeah, she’s she still belongs to you guys, you know. And they told me, hey you’ll be there for maybe 7, 6 months, maybe less than that, and then you’ll come back home. As a kid I mean, I didn’t know like right from wrong. I did what my parents told me, as you know, you think your parents, they know what’s best for you so you follow their lead. They signed all the paperwork, erm they even taught me how to erm, when I’m getting my passport like, passport to say ‘oh this guy is going to adopt me and that’s why I’m going with him to the US. They played out all, what was necessary to make it okay where no one will question them. They erm, they thought of everything. And I just went along with it. When I was leaving, I got to see my parents once, for the last time I ever see them. And that was at the airport. Erm they, they said goodbye and erm, we’ll miss you and be good and listen to what you’re told. And pretty much that was it, I’ve never seen them again.
I went on a flight with a man that I met only once before, the guy acted that he was my parent, erm and he sat way in the front of the airplane and I was way back there like, had nothing to do with me, and erm we went through different flights and different arrangements and finally we were in the US, in Irvine. Erm is where I met the parents, erm again and he just pretty much like a package, he handed me over. Erm I went through security yin the airport like nothing. It was, you know the guy didn’t even notice, because the guy that was with me he was mixed with Arab and half white and so he looked nothing like me whatsoever. Erm no one ever questioned him, nothing. It was like oh okay, here you go. A guy kind of looked at me and looked at my passport and then he turned around and said oh we’re going to Disneyland, and that was it. Then I got hand to the parents and erm they took me to their house. Erm I, I was still confused honestly. I was still like you know hey, this is going to be for a little bit I’m gonna go back home. Erm, they took me to their house and showed me this is where you’re gonna to work. Pretty much, you’re going to take care of the kids. Now I’m the only worker they have. Erm, and erm, pretty much like do what you, what we tell you and end of story, you’re not allowed to go outside, you’re not allowed to talk to anybody else. I mean, I only spoke Arabic at the time, I didn’t speak English to be able to communicate with anybody else. Erm, I, they showed me where I lived I erm, I stayed in a room in the garage. It had a bed, it had a blanket, and a light. And the light, you know eventually broke and I lived the rest of the years with no light in that room but erm, erm that was my sleeping arrangement and they thought that was perfectly fine to treat a human being. Erm, sorry. I, I did my labour work which was in my case for human trafficked slave, was I was labour work, I wasn’t sexually abused or anything I was only abused by verbally, slapping, smacking. Other people actually go through worse when they’re slaved, if they’re sexually slaved. Erm, I hated where I lived, I woke up in the morning at 5 in the morning get the kids clothes ready, erm get their erm, lunches their breakfasts, get the kids all ready for school and that was my , that was my day. I woke up, I got up, I cleaned the house, they had two story house, 4 bedroom on top and erm they had about two other living room on the bottom, a computer room, bathrooms. And my job as a 9 year old was to do all that and to clean and as they, do as they told and as human beings they thought that was right to treat another person. And the amount of two years I lived with them I got to speak to my parents twice. And erm the first time I cried to my mum and was like hey, I want to come back home I can’t do this anymore, they’re verbally abusing, everything it’s just horrible. And she turned around ‘oh you’re okay, you’re almost done paying your sister’s debt, you have to do this for the family. You should think of your family.’ And I couldn’t say anything else, you know that’s what my mum is telling me. I got off the phone and the dad goes up to me and he’s like don’t you ever complain to us, complain about us to your mum. So they, he was on the other line listening. He was like how dare you, we give you the world. We treat you as one of the family. And I couldn’t imagine this how family treat each other. Erm… erm I lived with them how miserable was. But… sorry… with the way they treated me the way they, the mum go up to me and says, remember you’re nothing compared to who we are. And that was her way of letting me, you know, hey, you stay in your place and that’s it, this is your place for you to work for us and to pretty much do what you’re supposed to. I went to, I took the kids to parking, I took the kids to the pool around the neighbourhood. No one ever would notice me either. I was a kid with [crying] ripped clothes, erm looked miserable and you can just tell… and no one ever looked at me… and this is why I do the talk that I do, for people to understand that you can help somebody else. [Crying]. I had one neighbor come up to me once at the park and ask the little boys ‘hey, who is she?’ and they said, they were taught to be like ‘she’s your stepsister, so she’s just here with my dad so she’s going to be leaving soon’. So they even taught their own little kids, their youngest little boys to say like, hey this is, this is part of our family you know, they’re not doing anything wrong.
Erm [crying] the two years I had to, were the most miserable two years of my life. I finally erm, a neighbor you know, noticed me and called and said hey there’s a kid that erm lives in this house, very young, never see her go to school erm, see her anything. See her just up. And erm I guess took the police 3 days to go around the house and to be okay, there’s something wrong in the house to come in. Erm and you can’t even imagine the day I was rescued. Honestly it was the worst day ever at the time, I thought. Because here there’s bunch of cops coming to the house, and you’re always drilled in your head to be, if anybody would ever take you, any police officers, anybody will talk to you, they will just put you in jail because you’re not supposed to be here. You will never see your family again. They’re going to beat you until you’re just, nothing else is left of you. And the mum would tell me that all the time, all the time in my head. And all I can think of when they came through those doors is like, my life is over. I thought it had it hard then, but I thought, oh man the worst is coming. [crying] Erm, the dad open the door, and he said, you know they spoke in English I didn’t really understand what was going on other than the dad telling me in Arabic you know like go away. And erm I erm, I walked away and all I heard was you know the door shut, and they didn’t come in. And erm it took maybe 5 more minutes and erm, the cops knocked on the door like crazy again. I guess they needed a warrant and warrant to come in, in the house. And all I heard was just yelling, bunch or yelling like crazy, and I didn’t understand anything of it. Erm and as they took me outside the house, the dad goes and tell me in Arabic ‘don’t you dare tell them you, you work for me’. And they were just trying to push him away from me. Erm no nobody at the time was able to communicate with me and tell me what’s going on. They had to go and get somebody that spoke Arabic to erm talk to me on the phone and be like ‘hey, you know it’s going to be okay, these people are here to help you. So just go with them’. And the first thing they did was, they put me in a marked cop car and that’s the one thing I’m always point at, see these, these are the things that you don’t get near, these are the things that are gonna take you and that’s it for you. And so I was, I was frightened I was just like, this is it for me. Erm I ended up being taken to a, an erm it’s called Orangewood, back in Orange County and it’s like a group home. And I got placed there and erm it was a day later, the cops came by and they got my parents on the phone and erm my parents instead of erm res, like pretty much making me feel better or anything. The first word out of my dad’s mouth was ‘How dare you to leave these people’s home. These are the people who put a roof on top of your head. Cared and treated you as family’. I remember being so angry to hear these words from him, it was… [Shyima is passed some water] thank you… it was very hard to hear those words from him because I just thought like, he really has no idea what these people put me through. Staying up ‘til 2 o clock in the morning to finish cleaning the house, to doing their laundry, to them pushing me around, to tell me I’m nothing. And that’s when he tells me I was part of their family… I remember one time when I was in the family’s house, when I first got there. I washed my clothes into the washing machine, and she goes and throw my clothes on the floor and says, you’re clothes are dirty, you don’t mix it with, with our clothes. And she give me a dish, soap like you wash the dishes with and a bucket and that’s how I washed my clothes. Because my clothes were dirtier than theirs. [Crying] I’m sorry… no matter how many time I do this I still… erm but yeah, my dad was like be thankful, pretty much. And he put my mum on the phone and she was like ‘you’re gonna give me a heart attack, you’re gonna kill me. You’re supposed to stay with these people, you’re supposed to be thankful for what you have. And these people have helped us so much’. And I came to find out I guess they’d been giving them a little extra money I guess, to help them out. And the same sister that stole the money from them and I was in the situation with, she got married with the money they give them extra. Erm I honestly, I had nothing to say to them. I was just really hurt, there was a bunch of cops around me, an Arabic speaker that was translating what’s going on to them. And I was just crying and telling him like, dad these people are hurting me non-stop. And he’s like ‘well you should be thankful for what you have’. And they end up, the cop end up taking the phone and they hanged up on them, they were like, you don’t need to listen to them. Erm they came by a few days, I was still terrified of what was going on around me. I refused to talk to the cops and they kept on asking me the only way we help you is by you talking to us and telling us what’s going on. Now I’m, I’m scared, I’m like what if I go back to this family again? What if they win and they take me back? What they gonna do? They’re probably gonna show me the worst all over again because I even dared to say something. And all I can say to the cop is like nope, I was fine, I was just visiting just you know, don’t worry about it. And they couldn’t do anything else because I wouldn’t talk. But again that’s another thing with victims, they don’t know what to do with themselves, they always scared their going to go back to where they were. Their emotions are all build on the things you’re always told and the things you’re always told are going to happen to you.
I end up going to foster care through the system and I went through 3 different foster parents. Erm I was a teenager, not many foster parents want to really take in a teenager. You never, you never know what you’re going to get with it. Erm I had my first foster parents they were Arab because I didn’t speak any English, and I stayed with them actually about 3 years. Erm it didn’t end up working out because they said I was becoming way too much of a teenager. Erm and I guess you’re given, you give a kid a candy and just got hyper with it I guess, erm I was excited to know what was out in the world, I wanted to learn everything. Now through all this I was Muslim, I wore my scarf I practiced my religion very well, I prayed so God can get me into a better place. Erm my first foster parents were very hardcore Muslims as well. Erm so since I was becoming too much of a teenager they moved me along to my second foster parents, I was no longer in California, I moved all the way to San Jose for my second foster parents. Erm I was still not, erm trying to learn and going through school systems and they were another foster parents that were Muslim and they spoke Arabic too. I didn’t last long with them, I stayed only for a year. Erm and erm I moved along from them to my third foster parents which was erm in Cali, back to California because I was a ward of Orange County. Erm, through every foster parents you know, you go through the problems and me growing up and trying to learn everything else around me and my third foster parents I didn’t want to be a Muslim anymore and I took my scarf of because I was getting bullied in school and kids would pull my scarf off of me. Erm just spit on me, it was horrible so I decided I keep on going through all these things because I believe in a faith that’s really not getting me anywhere. It’s not even just the Muslim part it was just me thinking of God, hey you know, this is not working out pretty much. And erm I decided to take my scarf of and going through that was a lot different for me to because I had a hard time with is because I thought you know I’m going the worst right now, not believing in what I had always been taught. Erm my second, my third foster parents were American. They spoke full on English, not Arabic and erm and that’s from where I got the last name Hall. I got adopted by them and I carried their last name. I had my problems with them where after my, now came 2007 is when I started having my little problem with them because my case was coming to an end and I finally decided to speak to the police officers, it took me from 2001 to 2007 to speak to the cops and tell them really what happened. Erm the agent they really didn’t give up on the case, erm they wanted to put them in jail really bad because they knew what they were doing was wrong and they were like this happened in our own back yard like this shouldn’t happen so close to home, so they didn’t give up on the case.
I went erm through court and they decided that they weren’t going to put me on the stand erm for trial because my own sister erm the one that started everything else, was coming to testify against me and because erm this family were wonderful to her and they’d, they stood by her they did everything so great for her. So I was the wrong one. Erm so the lawyers worked really hard not to have me go through all that because I was still like you know going through all my emotions, like I was going through all the pills to put me to sleep because I would never sleep. Any pills to make me happy. Erm and erm I went through the case and erm the day of the trial was, it was really hard because it was my first time every seeing them again, the family. And the mum got up first and spoke and said, she was very determined and angry with the judge, stood up and told him you know, ‘shame on you, you have us come to court on a holy day’ because it was Eid at the time, ‘and taken us away from my family and my kids’. Erm I, I wasn’t planning on getting up and speaking, but when I got up and I, I spoke and I said, I told her how dare her to say that you took us away from my family and friends on a holy day when she took my whole childhood away from me. Took me away from my family, my friends, even, we were poor, we had nothing, it still was my family, my life. And she took that away from me. She was very upset that the judge had the court date on Eid. And that’s really all I had to say to her, pretty much shame on you. The good thing about the case, they were, they plead guilty so they weren’t able to get as big a sentence, but the good thing is they still went to jail. She went to er 22 months of that’s how long she had me, for 2 years and the dad went for 3 years to jail. I was the first case being, for human trafficking being ever solved in Orange County and in California. They didn’t get a lot of jail time but the community and the police officer they all learned a lot from it to, for the next victim how to help them right and how to make things go along a lot faster.
Erm I, I’m happy where I am now. I’ve been through all that and erm I have a wonderful daughter, she’s 2. She makes me happy. Wonderful little girl. And this is why really I do most of my talks, because I never want her to grow up in such a horrible world. She’s… I would kill for her and that’s how I would want everybody to look around and to be like, if you see something, do something about it. Because of that neighbor, I’m here today to speak to you and to tell you about my story and to let you know how awful things are out there and what other people go through. And there’s a lot worse case than mine. I was blessed because I had people behind me and they helped me along with it, I was very a determined person to be like, I was given an opportunity to stay in the US and I’m gonna do everything I could do to make it worth. To give back what was given to me, my life. And to have a wonderful life. Erm I really don’t have much to say. There’s a lot more to everything but erm, if you guys have any questions you’re free to ask me.
As told to Sam Houston State University Global Center for Journalism and Democracy