Household Chores vs. “Forced Labor”

Acknowledgment of Paternity and the Revocation of Paternity Act
May 6, 2017

The Court of Appeals produced an opinion on August 4, 2014 reversing a man’s prior convictions for forced labor, a federal crime (Here’s a link to the statute.)  The opinion discussed how forced labor differs from the normal act of making children perform household chores.  In this case, Unites States v. Toviave, the defendant had brought four young relatives from Togo to live with him in Michigan.  He had them do various chores like laundry, cleaning, and cooking.  He also engaged in physical punishment, including hitting “the children with his hands, and with plunger sticks, ice scrapers, and broomsticks, often for minor oversights or violations of seemingly arbitrary rules.”  Toviave also took care of all their material needs; he worked two jobs to provide for them, and they had adequate clothing, food, and shelter.  They had an English tutor and Toviave made sure they were receiving an education.  The children’s teachers reported the suspected abuse, which led to an investigation and Toviave being charged with visa fraud, forced labor, and human trafficking.  He pled guilty to visa and mail fraud, and the trafficking charge was dropped.  After a trial, he was convicted of four counts of forced labor, one for each child.

The appeals court disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion, stating “An American parent has always had the right to make his child perform household chores. That right is codified in Michigan: “parents . . . are . . . entitled to the custody, control, services and earnings of [a] minor.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.2; see also Rohm v. Stroud, 194 N.W.2d 307, 308 (Mich. 1972). A person standing in loco parentis, or “in the place of a

parent; instead of a parent; charged, factitiously, with a parent’s rights, duties, and responsibilities” also has that right.”  The court went on to state that this interpretation of the forced labor statute would make many things that parents do into federal crimes.

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