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Young African Maids Seek Protection from Abusive Employers

Impoverished young women throughout Africa are sent into the homes of more affluent families, to work - often in near slave-like conditions as maids. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar on a group trying to change this, in this, the second report in a series on challenges facing young African women.

Fatou Ndao is one of several maids complaining outside a shed at a roundabout in Senegal's capital.

Like others, she talks of working from before sunrise to beyond midnight, being forced to sleep in a garage or outside on the floor and being fed spoiled food, working as a maid for less than one dollar a day.

Soriba Samateh tries to console them. He is a retired night watchman who says he has had enough of seeing young women being abused by jealous wives, victimized by employers, treated as thieves, beaten and raped - just because they were maids.

He set up a local association to hear their complaints and to act as a mediator between abused maids and their employers.

His shed has also turned into the site of an informal recruiting agency. But, unlike other agencies, his also screens employers before allowing them to hire the maids that go through his system.

Maria-Tou Sow is one of his recruits. She is pounding pepper at the home of a large middle class family in the Sacre-Coeur area.

Even though the work is hard, speaking through a translator, she explains she now feels protected.

"This new negotiation is good because, if somebody comes to look for a maid there, at least when something is missing from the house, or there is a problem, or conflict, that person will have somewhere to go to, to lay the complaint. In the same vein, if, as a maid, we are not treated well, we will also have somebody who will be able to go to the person who employed us and intermediate for us," she said.

Despite the initial progress, maids say getting formally registered with the government as domestic workers and forcing employers to pay for their social security is still too much to ask.