Country is still freeing the ?slave? of the house 135 years after Lei Áurea

Of the 61,459 rescued from slavery in Brazil since 1995, 77 were in domestic work. The number, small, does not represent the real dimension of the problem in a country where “taking to raise” the daughter of a poor family in the interior and putting her to work is seen as a favor and not human trafficking.

In recent years, the cases of liberation of enslaved domestics had wide visibility in the press. As a result, neighbors began to realize that workers from residences in the same neighborhood were in a similar condition.

The first two rescues took place in 2017, then two more in 2018, five in 2019, three in 2020, 31 in 2021 and 2022 and, so far, three in 2023, according to data from the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

“Due to the great repercussion of the rescue of domestic worker Madalena Gordiano at the end of 2020 in Patos de Minas, the number of complaints increased”, said tax auditor Maurício Krepsky, head of the Inspection Division for the Eradication of Slave Labor (Detrae) of the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

The longest case of enslavement of a person in contemporary Brazil was that of an 84-year-old woman rescued, in 2022, after 72 years working as a maid for three generations of the same family in Rio de Janeiro. During that period, she took care of the house and its residents, every day, without receiving a salary, according to the inspection.

When the worker, who is black, started working for the family, the Lei Áurea (1888) was only 62 years old, the president was Eurico Gaspar Dutra, and Rio, the country’s capital.

According to the inspection, his parents worked on a farm in the interior of the state. At age 12, she moved into the home of the owner couple to do housework. When they died, she moved to their daughter’s house, where she maintained her activities, including taking care of the children. When she was rescued, she acted as a caregiver for her employer, despite the fact that both were of similar age.

Taking girls ‘to raise’

Another woman who had been working as a maid for 32 years was rescued from a pastor’s residence in Mossoró (RN) also last year. According to labor inspectors, she arrived at the site as a teenager, aged 16, and suffered sexual abuse and harassment from her employer.

They found that she was responsible for domestic services and received housing, food, clothing and some gifts in return. But she never had a salary or a bank account, nor did she take vacations or interrupt work on weekends.

“Families ‘take girls to raise’, generating a relationship of exploitation. It is a common practice in the region, unfortunately”, explained at the time the labor inspector Gislene Stacholski, who carried out the investigation of the complaint. For the low-income and humble owners of the house, she was treated ‘as if she were a daughter’. But, according to the inspection, the couple never considered a formal adoption of the “daughter”.

The Lei Áurea abolished formal slavery, which meant that the Brazilian State no longer recognizes that someone owns someone else. However, situations persisted that turned people into disposable work instruments, denying them their freedom and dignity.

Domestic service is not seen as work in Brazil, but an obligation related to a gender and, often, to a skin color. In this context, the super-exploitation of black women has shouldered the social reproduction of both rich and poor here.

During the discussions on the constitutional amendment that raised the rights of domestic workers to a level closer to the rest of the population, we read and heard a festival of prejudices. Even today, we hear echoes of complaints about the hell into which the bosses’ lives plunged from the moment that “these people” started to think that they were “just like them”.

Employers who probably believe that the Lei Áurea went too far. At the time, I collected several examples on the networks:

– I asked the girl who works at home to stay two more hours because Arnaldo was going to be late for tennis and she said no. She said she had the kids at home. And mine?

– She didn’t want to change the day off. She said she had booked a trip. Now these people travel!

– He resigned and left. And you’re suing me for rights! I treated her like a daughter.

– She said she doesn’t want to sleep in her little room anymore because it’s closed and doesn’t have a window. In her favela, she probably doesn’t have it either, and she doesn’t even complain.

And other more recent cases:

– The exchange is not nervous, it has changed. There is no exchange rate at R$ 1.80. Everybody going to Disneyland, maid going to Disneyland, one hell of a party.

Part of Brazil resented equalizing the rights of female employees

For months, Brazil woke up with “experts” on the radio or TV saying that it was not the time to guarantee rights to a certain category of workers because the economy could not cope and they would be fired. Just the fact that these positions gained traction indicates that a section of society had normalized the overexploitation of a group of people.

It took half a century for the International Labor Organization to approve a convention on the rights of domestic workers. “Civilized” Europe needed cheap labor, but did not want to guarantee migrants the same rights as those born on the continent. And, through this exploitation of informal work, it regulated the cost of living in several economies.

In Brazil, there are still buyers looking for a “Maid’s Room” when purchasing a new property, a detached space next to the kitchen and laundry room – a contemporary version of the slave quarters. That little bit of space next to the brooms, squeegees and cleaning products, destined for the servants, is our burden of shame.

If one person has to sleep on the job, they should share a guest room, for example. But she is “almost” family. And in this “almost” lie 523 years of history.

We are (almost) a fair country, we managed to be (almost) civilized, dignity here is (almost) respected, we (almost) treat the poor with respect.

Slavery was (almost) eradicated. Almost.

In time: On April 27th, the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (Conatrae) held an event on domestic slave labor in Brasília. In it, the Lula government affirmed its disposition to strengthen the fight against this crime. Denouncements of slave labor can be made confidentially on the Ipê System, launched in 2020 by the Labor Inspection Secretariat (SIT) in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), or by Dial 100. Official data on combating labor slave labor are available on SIT’s Slave Labor Radar

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