Queens, NY Case Puts Spotlight On Child Slavery In The US

The Queens, New York, child slavery case is a wake-up call for the U.S., where people generally believe the practice only exists in other, often underdeveloped, countries.

A New York woman is accused of physically abusing two South Korean children and using them as slave labor for nearly six years.

Sook Yeong Park took the victims into her home in Flushing, Queens, in 2010 when the girl was 10 years old and her brother was 8. Both of them were allegedly forced to do “meticulous” housework for up to 10 hours a day. Once, she even made one of the siblings give her “a five-hour body massage.”

The 42-year-old woman reportedly told the children they owed her money because their mother wasn’t sending any money from Korea to pay for their expenses.

“Park routinely beat them by striking them with objects, slapping them, stepping on their legs and kicking them about the body for not obeying her orders, causing them to fear her,” states Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s report. It also states last November, she attacked the female victim with a nail clipper because the abusive woman wasn’t satisfied with her manicure and pedicure.

On Jan. 4, in a fit of rage, Park allegedly kicked the girl on her leg, causing swelling and substantial pain, and the next day, cut off her hair and kicked her in the head.

The story came to light after the children reported the abuse to their school’s principal, who then alerted the police. Park was held on a $10,000 bond/$2,500 cash bail and will appear in court again on Feb. 16. She faces seven years in prison if convicted.

The siblings, now 16 and 14, are currently staying with a social worker. While it’s not yet known if they’ll remain in the United States or be returned to Korea, they are, nevertheless, relieved to be out of Park’s grasp.

The harrowing tale of the teenagers’ ordeal has shocked many who cannot believe that a woman was able to torture two children for nearly six years.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case in the United States.

“An estimated 10.5 million children worldwide – most of them under age – are working as domestic workers in people’s homes, in hazardous and sometimes slavery-like conditions,” stated the International Labor Organization in 2013. “Six and a half million of these child laborers are aged between 5 and 14 years old. More than 71 percent are girls.”

Between 2007 and 2008, the U.S. State Department found children had been “trafficked to work as servants in at least 33 of Africa's 53 countries. Children from at least 10 African countries were sent as maids to the U.S. and Europe.”

The most prominent case in this regard was of Shyima Hall, who was sold into slavery by her parents in Egypt when she was just 8 years old in 1998. She moved to California with an abusive couple who made her work for up to 20 hours a day.

More recently, in 2013, two men in Florida were arrested as they packed children into a van marked "Teens Against Drugs And Alcohol." They were using the kids to sell cheap household items door-to-door.

CNN reported that year that child laborers in the U.S. are often recruited via promises of quick cash. They are lured out of their neighborhood or state after which they are held captive under the “threat of abandonment.”

Americans generally believe forced labor is something that happens in underdeveloped nations. But the practice, especially child slavery, including underage domestic servitude, is alive and well in the U.S.

Exact statistics, though, about child maids are not available because the problem is easily hidden in plain sight from authorities including the United Nations, Interpol and State Department.

Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters

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