At just eight years old, a young girl in Brazil was given up by her parents, who could not afford to care for her, to a wealthier family. The new family, that of university professor Dalton Cesar Milagres Rigueira, allegedly kept the little girl as an enslaved maid for nearly 40 years, never paying her for her work or even giving her a day off.
The woman, now 46, was recently rescued by Brazilian authorities, reported the Thompson Reuters Foundation. The victim has not been named. Labor inspectors in Brazil told the outlet that the woman had a small room in an apartment.
“They gave her food when she was hungry, but all other rights were taken from her,” Humberto Camasmie, the inspector who led the rescue, told Reuters.
An attorney representing Rigueira’s family said their case has not yet been held in court yet they have been assumed guilty by the public.
“The premature and irresponsible disclosure by inspectors and agents of the state, before a lawsuit recognizes … their guilt, violates rights and sensitive data from the family, and compromises their safety,” the lawyer said in a statement, as reported by Reuters.
Labor prosecutors told the outlet that they wanted to reach a deal with Rigueira that would provide restitution to the victim. He faces eight years in prison if convicted.
Rigueira was a professor at Unipam, but has since been suspended.
The woman may not have even known she was a slave, since it was not she who contacted authorities. Neighbors reached out after the woman gave them notes asking if they could buy food and other items because she didn’t have any money, labor inspectors told Reuters.
While being forced to work for them, the Rigueira family also forced the woman to marry one of their elderly relatives so they could keep receiving his pension – about $1,557 a month – once he died. Because the woman has since been rescued, she is able to keep that money for herself, an amount Reuters reported was seven times higher than the minimum wage in Brazil.
“She did not know what a minimum wage was,” Camasmie told the outlet. “Now she’s learning how to use a credit card. She knows that every month she will be paid a substantial amount (from the pension).”
The woman is currently in a shelter where she is receiving help from psychologists and social workers, the outlet reported, adding that authorities are trying to find her biological family.
“Domestic servitude in Brazil is difficult to identify and tackle because victims rarely see themselves as modern slaves, officials say. Of 3,513 workers found in slavery-like conditions between 2017 and 2019, only 21 were held in domestic servitude,” Reuters reported.
In June, authorities in Brazil rescued a 61-year-old woman who was also being enslaved as a maid for an executive for Avon, a beauty company. The executive was fired, Reuters reported, and was charged along with her husband and mother with enslaving the maid, though they also deny the charges against them.