Suburban family forced West African teens into forced labor: feds

A south suburban family faces child labor trafficking charges after allegedly threatening two undocumented West African teenagers into forced labor.

Nawomi Awoga, 71, and her two daughters allegedly got tourism visas for two teens from the African country Benin, where Awoga is a citizen, according to an indictment from the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.

The teenage girls, then ages 12 and 14, were kept at the defendants’ homes in Country Club Hills and Hazel Crest and forced to work for the financial gain of the defendants, according to the indictment. The defendants allegedly instructed the teens to lie to customs agents and say they were sisters.

Prosecutors don’t detail the type of work the teens were forced to perform, or the type of threats allegedly used to coerce them. The victims were allegedly kept against their will between June 2014 and October 2018.

In 2017, the defendants became aware of the investigation and began shuttling one of the victims to other homes, according to the indictment.

Awoga is expected to appear in court Wednesday, while the daughters are due in court Thursday, prosecutors said.

In 2019, federal prosecutors charged a woman who allegedly “enslaved” Guatemalan immigrants for years at her Cicero home. Concepcion Malinek allegedly told the immigrants, numbering over 30, that they couldn’t leave until they paid debts to her worth thousands of dollars, prosecutors said.

There’s an estimated 25 million people worldwide who are victims of forced labor trafficking, according to the International Labor Organization. Of those, 16 million are exploited in private sector work, such as domestic or construction work, while about 5 million are forced into sexual exploitation, according to the ILO. Women and girls account for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% of victims in other areas.