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Domestic Servitude

The suffering of victims of domestic servitude (of which the majority are women and young girls) is twofold. Not only are they victims of trafficking and exploitation, they also suffer from the profound isolation which surrounds domestic servitude being, by definition, hidden from the view of the outside world.

While the ‘National Plan of Action Against the Trafficking of Human Beings’ grants labour inspectors, from now on, the explicit power to verbally detect instances of ‘trafficking in human beings, submissiveness to work or forced services, slavery or practices analogous to slavery,’ it remains to be seen what concrete measures will be taken in order to identify victims of domestic servitude.

The crimes of slavery, servitude and forced labour or services were not introduced into the French penal code until relatively recently. France, having been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights ( ECHR) in the cases of Siliadin and CN and V v France, modified article 225-4-1 of the penal code (Law of the 5 August 2013) which creates five new crimes of exploitation: reduction to slavery and to servitude, forced labour and services, and trafficking for the organ trade. Before this, working and living conditions incompatible with human dignity were not considered relevant in ascertaining the existence trafficking and exploitation.

‘Servitude’ was defined in the cases of Siliadin and CN and V v France as an ‘obligation to provide one’s services that is imposed by the use of coercion’ and which constitutes a ‘special type of forced or compulsory labour…aggravated forced or compulsory labour.’

According to article 225-14-1 of the French Penal Code, forced labour is ‘obtaining the performance of unpaid services or services against which a payment is made which clearly bears no relation to the importance of the work performed from a person. It is punishable by seven years in prison and a fine of €200,000.’ Article 225-14-2 provides that ‘reduction to servitude is the fact of making a person suffer habitually from the infraction laid out in article 225-14-1 of a person whose vulnerability or dependence is obvious or known to the offender.’ It is punishable by ten years in prison or a fine of €300,000.

Slavery is defined by article 224-1 A of the French Penal Code and designates a situation where one person exercises over another ‘the or some characteristics of the law of property,’ property being defined per article 554 of the Civil Code. The crime of slavery is punishable by twenty years imprisonment.

Photo: Xavier Schwebel/Secours Catholique

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