In France, women and children are being subjected to domestic servitude, in cases in which families exploit relatives brought from Africa to work in their households. Trafficking networks have expanded to operate in large towns outside of Paris, including Lille, Marseille, Chartres, Toulouse, and Nice.
Affoué was taken from the Ivory Coast and exploited for 12 years under domestic servitude in France without pay or a day off. She eventually escaped with the help of a French NGO, and now she is moving forward with her life, together with her son.
We had enough to eat, our parents took care of us, we went to school, until one day my father said I was to go to Europe to study. I was 15 at the time.
The papers were taken care of, we got the tickets and they took me to Abidjan, to Houphouët-Boigny airport. A lady and gentleman were waiting for me. All these years that I stayed with them I did everything. I had to wake up to prepare breakfast when the lady left at 5am and make the gentleman's sandwich to take to work. Once I'd taken care of the parents I took care of the children. I woke them, got them ready, gave them breakfast, take them to school and do the shopping. I cleaned the house and prepared the children's lunch, took them back to school. If there were more chores, I did them and also cooked dinner. Sometimes they even woke me to wash the gentleman's car. I had no clothes of my own. I wore the lady's clothes when they no longer fitted her or sometimes clothes from her friends. They used to say, "if you go out, don't tell anyone you have no papers." I lived in constant fear. Whenever they said to do something, I did it. And if I didn't I was told off. As time went by it got worse. When I went to bed I had nothing but nightmares. I had nightmares all the time. I slept in a cubbyhole. The oldest boy slept with me in the cubbyhole. When I laid down, my feet were going up. The cubbyhole was really small. I wasn't getting any money because she said they were keeping the money in the bank for me.
On 24 March 2003 or 2004, they said "Affoué, we need your travel authorization." I said, "what's that?" but they didn't want to say. It means that once they buy you a plane ticket and you go there, you can't come back. If I was going to leave, they had to give me everything they had promised me. That's when they said no, we never said anything about money in the bank for you. I started to rebel. Little by little, I understood with the help of friends and neighbours that I had to take things in my own hands. I stayed for 12 years, until I was 27. I felt so very hurt and betrayed. Betrayed because for years I sacrificed myself for them and I got nothing in return. Every time I think about the wrong they've done me I feel angry, but then I think anger doesn't help. You have to move forward. Today I have a beautiful baby boy who makes me happy. I feel like a woman, like a mother. Life goes on. Life goes on. Life is beautiful. Life is short but it's beautiful, and you have to enjoy it. My advice would be that human beings have to stop harming their fellow humans, that slavery has to end. We are all human beings, we are all equal. It has to end. It's wrong to take other people's children and exploit them. It's wrong, and so it has to stop.
As told to the European Commission