Page 3 of 5   <       >

In Togo, a 10-Year-Old's Muted Cry: 'I Couldn't Take Any More'

In Lome, a seaside city in a country with one of the highest rates of domestic slave trafficking in the world, hundreds of girls a year seek protection from abusive employers.

The woman, Nefisa Wuregawu, was a well-known trader who bought corn and beans in rural markets and resold them in Lome. She told Djatao she could get Adiza a job working for a good family in Lome.

"At least this way I knew the person who would take her," said Djatao, who said goodbye to Adiza 14 months ago, when the girl climbed onto a sagging, overcrowded bus with Wuregawu for the 12-hour drive to the capital.

Sitting in her extended family's little compound of huts, where she lives with 23 people, Djatao said she was upset to learn that Adiza had been mistreated. But, she said, she still wasn't sure if that was reason enough for Adiza to come home.

"I didn't know she would be harmed," she said. "But we have nothing here."

'More Like a Spanking'

When Adiza arrived in Lome after the day-long bus trip, she recalled, it was the first time she had seen tall buildings, or television, or the ocean.

She went immediately to work in the home of Alimatou Abdulai, 53, who runs a small business selling rice in her local market.

One recent day, Abdulai, a tall woman with strong, broad shoulders, sat beneath the two big mango trees that shade her family home.

Abdulai's house is comfortable by Lome standards. It has electricity and a television and plenty of room for Abdulai, her husband and four of their six grown children. In the street, women have their hair braided and styled in a pleasant outdoor beauty salon on a shady corner nearby.

But Abdulai's family finances are still modest. None of the men in her house has a job, so her earnings of about $1 to $5 a day constitute the main income.

Her two daughters had married and moved away, she said, so she was looking for a girl to help cook and clean. By local tradition, men don't help with housework.

"I needed a domestic so I could run my business," Abdulai said, saying that the 20 cents a day she agreed to pay Adiza was a good investment.

Abdulai said that she didn't know it is illegal in Togo to hire a girl younger than 15 and that she had no qualms about hiring Adiza when she was just 9. "The work she did for me is not work that requires strength," she said.

<          3           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company