Malawi woman wins U.S. human trafficking case after three years ‘in prison’: Fainess Lipenga worked for Jane Kambalame as housemaid

A Malawian woman trafficked to the United States by a diplomat, confined to a house for three years and forced to work long hours for little pay has been awarded $1 million in damages in a human trafficking lawsuit against her former employer.

Fainess Lipenga: Wins case

Fainess Lipenga: Wins case

Fainess Lipenga began working for Jane Kambalame as a housemaid in her Malawi home in 2002, according to the case memorandum.

When Kambalame accepted a diplomatic position at the Malawian embassy in Washington in 2004, she asked Lipenga to move with her.

“I was so excited,” Lipenga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview. “She (Kambalame) told me that I could finish my education in the U.S. and that she would help me find another job.”

She signed a contract written in English, which she did not fully understand, which stated Lipenga would be paid $980 per month for working 35 hours per week and would be paid overtime.

But the reality was quite different. For the first few months she received nothing, and after that was paid between $100 and $180 per month.

“She made me work from 5.30 am to 11 pm on most days, and I had to sleep on the basement floor,” said Lipenga. “She said I couldn’t sleep in a room upstairs like the family because I would make them sick.”

Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally, 1.5 million of them in developed countries like the United States, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Over half are women and girls.

Forced labour among migrant domestic workers in particular is widespread, with women exploited even before they have left their home country and later abused by their employers abroad.

In 2006 Kambalame installed a lock on the door of the family home in Washington D.C., confining her domestic servant to the house, Lipenga said.

“She listened on the phone whenever I talked to my family, and would disconnect it when she left the house – I was trapped,” she said.

According to the lawsuit, Kambalame subjected Lipenga to psychological abuse, such as by humiliating her in front of visitors and threatening to deport her.

“She told me: ‘I’m a diplomat, you’ll never get me in trouble’,” Lipenga said. “I just believed her.”


Lipenga managed to escape the Kambalame household in 2007. “I thought: I will die if I stay here, they will take my body and dump it in the trash,” she said.

“I stole my passport and my contract when the family were out of the house, and left in the morning when they were sleeping – I could not stop shaking.”

Lipenga was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with tuberculosis and depression, which had gone untreated for years.

With the help of a pro bono human rights lawyer, she obtained a T visa, issued for victims of human trafficking, in 2009 and permanent U.S. residency in 2011.

Lipenga filed a civil complaint against Kambalame in the state of Maryland in 2014, with claims ranging from false imprisonment to intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A district court handed down a default judgment and against Kambalame, who failed to respond or participate in the case. Damages were set at $1,101,345.

Lipenga now works at the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Centre in Washington, and hopes to encourage other victims of trafficking to come forward.

“What happened to me happens to others over and over,” she said. “I want to help them and break the immunity for diplomats.”

Kambalame left the United States in 2012, according to the lawsuit, and appointed Malawi’s High Commissioner to Zimbabwe and Botswana. Lipenga believes she currently resides in Malawi.

“We are exploring various options to enforce the judgment,” said Lindsay Reimschussel, one of Lipenga’s lawyers.

The Malawian embassy in Zimbabwe said in an email that Kambalame no longer worked at the mission, but is still an employee of Malawi’s foreign affairs ministry. The Malawian embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Houtan Homayounpour, forced labour specialist at the ILO, said migrant domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labour.

“Moving away from their host environment puts them at risk, as they may not be familiar with the language or the law of their new environment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last year, an Ethiopian housemaid who sued the head of the U.N. World Health Organization in Thailand and his wife for beating and enslaving her, settled the case out of court. [nL8N13B2PA]

(Reporting by Zoe Tabary, additional reporting by Sebastien Malo, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. –Visit


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Heeeeee 5-11 amachita chani kweni kweni …,malawians will say anything when they are about to be deported..,remember that UK lady claiming that once deported her grandfather will be sleeping with her daughter as a ritual to cleanse himself from viruses..,ayi simulakwitsa poti moyo kumudzi kuno unavuta


I know neither of the people involved but this is a public case and the court has put the documents regarding the case online. here is the link:

This is garbage story. I am Nigerian, once lived in malawi and I know this family a little. They are one of the best Malawians you will ever meet. I live in America but never knew of this case. I am willing to bring this idiot down. You can,t do this to a fellow African. She is an accredited liar. All she did was tarnish janes image in other to remain in America . Jane you need to start litigation in malawi Immidiately against her. Take a parallel case to a Malawi court and have her arraigned .It’s not trafficking… Read more »

Are wiser than the judge in the case? She is saying what your good person inflicted on her and your advice to have her pinned down is a stupid guidance.Dont forget you are a native of a war torn country therefore you cant advise give any helpful advice.What are you doing in America? Are you not a refugee?


Vuto linanso lothandiza anthu osauka ndillimeneli basitu amakutembenukila akpeza bwino ali amatizunza uyu.


I know Jane Kambalame,my first childhood love, can not be evil and do that to her own maid whom she rescued from abject poverty.She is kind hearted and brought up in a well to do,devoted catholic family with good manners.The maid is just a fortune seeker and osayamika.


This story commenced 9 years ago with a court judgement 2 years ago 4 years after a diplomat left the USA,

Can count on this paper to stay on top of the news, possibly attempt to file a news article how this individual can obtain the judgment in Malawi


Kusayamika. I am afraid this will open a Pandora’s box and put in trouble many families that migrated with maids from their home countries. One such maid tried to do the same but died in the process. I know of many Malawian families who brought with them maids from Malawi. It is just out of this world to hire a maid in the US.

Pepani Mai
Mai Jane Kambalame, Musadandaule ili ndi khalidwe loipa lomwe a Malawi ambiri ali nalo. Mudakadziwa kuti azakutembenukirani munthuyu sibwenzi mutamutenga kupita naye ku America. Ichi chinali chikondi chanu chabe. Chimodzimodzi akazi ena amakwatiwa kumudzi mwamuna nkuwatengera ku town koma akakhazikika mtawunimo nkuchangamuka amamutembenukira uja anawatenga kumudzi uja, amaiwala monse mmene adutsa nkumupezetsa mwamuna wawo yemwe mavuto. Sindinu woyamba kukuchitikirani idzi. Oyamba anali mwini wake Yesu Khristu amene atamtenga Yudasi uja kukhala ophunzira wake, ndi iyeyo Yudasi amene anampereka m’manja mwa adani ake. Inu wanu akhale Kolona basi musalimbane naye munthuyu popeza azazindikila bwino patsogolo za zimene akuchitazi kuti nzoipa koma… Read more »

I cannot believe that beautiful Jane Kambalame is capable of this evil deed. She is a disgrace to ministry of foreign affairs and her well known dad of good character, the National Bank of Malawi board member and director Mr E Kambalame


Don’t judge. This maid is just a fortune seeker

Sister wa Jane
Its unfortunate that the issue has reached this stage. I wouldn’t comment much because Jane is my sister and it would look like am backing her up. Fainess was employed whilst Jane wa still in Malawi. She was good at taking care of Jane’s daughter and they built a bond the two of them. And hence when Jane was appointed to go to the Embassy she didn’t think twice about Fainess. All of us agreed that Fainess would take care of the little girl. Jane applied for her Visa at the Embassy and Fainess was granted that Visa on the… Read more »
Malawian in DC

Fainess has done this in order to get a green card. Fainess is clearly a fortune seeker. Jane is a good person and there is no way she can do what is being claimed. Fainess has exegerated this story. It is unfortunate that Jane wasn’t able to defend herself. We the Malawians in DC stands ready to testify against Fainess’s accusations. We will file a petition against Fainess’s accusations.


Being beautiful and from a so called family in a position of power does not exempt you from evil deeds!


This maid is evil. From the word go I knew this is not true. I know Jane too well she can never do this. Vuto lotenga anthuwa kupita nawo kunja. My conclusion is that wantchito si mbale wako. Treat them as such do not even go the extra mile cos sayamika


A fortune seeker as well as she was doing that to get a green card. Kungodziipatsa tsoka. But serious debate and action have to take place on how malawi govt can assist its diplomats with childcare especially single diplomats deployed to expensive stations like usa uk japan brussels. How do they expect a single diplomat woth a twoyear old to execute her responsibilities effectively with a child at home unattended to. Not sending them on fiplomatic postings becausr they have young children will not be a solution as it will be discriminatory

Thandie the Getrude
I have known Jane for a long time. She was my neighbour in area 11. I saw the way she treated her maid who looked after her daughter. She treated her Exceptionally well and I mean exceptionally by anyone’s standards not just Malawis. I have trouble believing anything that this maid has said. I have seen cases like this in the UK. When people bring domestic workers they issue them contracts according to the UK minimum wage. That is the only way a visa can be issued. But the minimum wage applies to people who have to buy their own… Read more »
Mr Steve

Ine ur stupid u know her as a friend how she treats other people u don’t know a lot of people are pretenders and don’t forget this is USA investigation was done professionally osate za kuno idiots I guess ur just like ur stupid friend

King Bright
I know Jane Kambalame in person .Ngineliwa is the last person to harm a fly. The maid claims she was denied opportunity to call family home, but who would allow a maid or indeed children to be making international calls? Was this part of the contract. She’s also claiming to have been working for the family from 5.30 to 11pm bur the family here in quoted refer’s to her self and her daughter. I wonder what her maid was doing from 5:30 am to 11pm. If she was given a contract and processed her visa, then there’s no case of… Read more »

so if you are a maid you shouldn’t make a call to your home land?such a shit statement pple are being trafficked and I have heard a lot of cases like this in England there’s no smoke without fire

La Rouche Marlise

Judge not

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