You would think with the new stringent measures put in place to avoid exploitation of au pairs and the au pair program would stop cases of au pairs being used as slaves, but it seems not to be the case. Although au pairs have to pass the litmus test before getting the visas and that has reduced the cases of “funny” au pairs coming to Germany, the families bringing au pairs remain untested.
Many people, even some of us who have been au pairs, still misunderstand the program. Most assume an au pair is a low cost house girl, others even thinking it is a slave you get to do with/to as you wish. A recent case was made public of an au pair exploited.
She has been in Germany for 8months working as an au pair. Her German is perfect, she had studied German back home and her plan was to come to Germany and complete her Master thesis. From her calculations, she would be able to be at the University library to write her master thesis during her off days from the au pair position.
She got online and found a family. The reason she chose this couple was because they understood her ambitions and were willing to support her through the completion of her studies. She signed the contract with the stipulations that she would only be with the children for 30 hours a week to facilitate her studies on the side and after the hustle of getting a visa, she arrived in Germany.
Unfortunately, the reality became quite different from what they had earlier planned with the family. Taking care of three young children, one aged 4 and twins aged 2, wasn’t easy. The stress of daily living with the children plus the duress of living with strangers in squeezed quarters was taking a toll on everyone involved.
The family was giving her €50 weekly to pay for her food. The girl is rarely allowed to take a warm shower and she’s not allowed to use the internet, as according to the family, that falls under the category of “extra services” not included in her contract. To get the extra services which include having meat (the family is vegetarian), using the internet and warm showers, the au pair has to spend more hours with the children.
Considering she found the family on her own, she doesn’t have an agent that can help her change families. She also has no access to the internet to find a new family for herself.
The au pair had been to the local clinic several times and had been diagnosed with exhaustion, joint pains and several infections. The last time she was there, she spoke to the doctor who gave her a list of hotlines where she could get help. The doctor also gave her a “doctor’s report” recommending she doesn’t engage in any heavily lifting or strenuous work due to the infection on her arm.
The family wasn’t having any of it. Having an au pair who doesn’t work? They forbade her from visiting that doctor and when they found out she had been giving a list of helplines to contact, they gave her 2days to pack up and take a flight back home.
Fortunately, the lady called one of the helplines for au pairs where she was able to get help. She has since left the family and was looking to apply to the University or for an Ausbildung.
If you’re an au pair and you need help, talk to someone before it is too late:
Telephone Seelsorge – run by the church. All calls are free: 0800 111 0111 or 0800 111 0222
COATNET with In Via Berlin – +49 (0)30 85 7 84 269
Au Pair Hilfe – 02246 9199 25 oder 0163 7578774
Susanne Flegel – +49 (0) 6081-96 48 00
Au-pair Society e.V. – 0800 110 287247