Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a girl called Siwa. She lived in a very poor country. She lived with her uncle because her parents had died when she was a child.
When she grew older, Siwa realised that the world was much bigger than just her country and that there were other interesting places to visit as well. But like most people in her country, Siwa was poor and didn’t have the money to travel.
One day, however, her uncle came up with a plan. He suggested sending Siwa to a rich country to live with Mrs X, an acquaintance of his. Siwa was excited by the idea of travelling and was eager to go. The uncle agreed with Mrs X that she would buy Siwa a plane ticket to her country and that Siwa would live at her house and help the family with the housework until she had earned the price of her plane ticket. So Siwa boarded a plane and flew to this rich country. She was looking forward to all the new things she would be experiencing There, Mrs. X had promised to send her to school and to take care of her legal papers so that she could travel freely and explore this new country.
However, once Siwa arrived at Mrs. X’s house, things started to go wrong. Mrs. X was not as friendly as the girl had imagined. She expected Siwa to take care of her children and do all the housework by herself. When Siwa asked about school, Mrs. X said that it could wait.
After a while Mrs. X told Siwa that she was going to live with Mrs. Y for a while. Siwa hoped that now she could finally start going to school and enjoying her stay in this new country. Sadly, however, Mrs. Y was worse than Mrs. X. Life became even harder for Siwa. Now she had to start work early in the morning and could not go to bed until late at night. And even then she couldn’t get a good night’s sleep as she was sleeping on the floor in the children’s room and had to take care of the baby, who woke up crying several times during the night. Besides cleaning, cooking and caring for the children, she was not even allowed to leave the house to walk around in the city. Life was miserable. Siwa regretted ever leaving Africa.
One morning Siwa managed to get permission to go to religious services. But instead of going there, she gathered her courage and knocked on the door of a neighbour’s house. She asked the young couple living there for help and told her story. The couple was shocked. They could not imagine someone being treated like a slave in modern times. Siwa’s story sounded like an old fairytale, except that in reality there was no fairy to help her, so she had to find a way to help herself.
The couple took Siwa into their house and reported her case to the police. When the police investigated, they charged Mrs. X and Mrs. Y. However, Siwa was not satisfied with having these individuals punished. She wanted to make sure that no other child like her would ever have to face a similar situation. Therefore, with her lawyer’s help, she filed a case in the European Court of Human Rights, asking the country where Mrs. X lived to change its laws to protect children from this kind of slavery. The Court agreed with Siwa and that country was forced to take care to prevent similar incidents of forced work in the future. Finally, Siwa was happy. She had not only managed to escape from the imprisonment in Mrs. Y’s house, but she had also made sure that no other child in that country would have to experience what she did.
Source: Adapted from the European Court of Human Rights case Siliadin v. France, No. 73316/01.