The ILO ( International Labor Organization) estimates that 53 million people are engaged in domestic work worldwide. Out of this number, 2.1 million people are engaged in domestic work across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and one in five women workers are domestic workers. Families have become increasingly reliant on migrant domestic workers. The majority originate from Asian and African countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Those migrant workers are excluded from national labor legislation, and are often tied to their employers through a restrictive sponsorship system known as Kafala (sponsorship) which ties them to the employee who will determine their life conditions. Accidents happen everyday, as rape, suicide and other forms of inhumane violence.
Those conditions are so bad sometimes that they lead to death of the worker. Ethiopian maids suicide is very common, the employers blame the victim of being insane, and they pretend that they treated her very well. Studies shows that no one commits suicide for no reason. All the suicide cases have been covered and killers are still alive. This is not fair.
Few days ago an Ethiopian maid was raped by the employee of an agency for the recruitment of migrant domestic workers. The employee and the secretary who silently witnessed were arrested by the Internal Security Forces. Hopefully they will be fairly judged and punished. The owner of the agency is a lawyer. One could think that she permitted those actions to happen, thinking she will be protected being a lawyer.
Or maybe, it is just one of those many agencies who’s policy is to punish the maids by beating them or even letting them be raped by an employee and sometimes even by the owner of the agency, thinking they will teach them a good lesson not to break the “laws of slavery”. Some other agencies are very respectable and professional and follow the official rules of recruitment.
Another side of the story is revealed sometimes. Those workers are abusing the trust of their bosses. They steal, they runaway to work in the streets or to prostitute, and sometimes they kill their employers or a member of the family, as this Ethiopian worker who threw the child from the balcony. They got to the point of having their own real gangs and pimps, where they work on helping some maids to run away from their employers, and take them in the streets to prostitute. They make those young girls believe that they will make much more money by getting paid per hour, hiding on them the truth of the hardship they will face. Hardship due to the lack of legal documents first, and the possibility of not being able to find work most of the times. So they suddenly find themselves I the need for money.
Big controversy. Who is the real abuser, the employer or the employee?
The ILO works with governments, workers, employers and civil society in countries of origin and destination to improve protection and protect the rights of domestic workers. But what is the Lebanese government doing about all this issue?
In November 2013, a Lebanese judge sentenced a Lebanese woman for 3 months jail and a fine, for the severe injuries she had inflicted on her Filipino domestic worker in 2008 – who is back in the Philippines and out of touch.
Great move that received a big ovation from the Lebanese community. A step forward in the human rights. One step in a long way. What about all those young lady workers who are committing suicide. What is the awful reason that made them do it? Are they really killing themselves? or is it a covered direct or indirect crime? Is the government investigating those crimes?
We are still so far from treating them as humans not as animals, even worse. In many households we see that the pet is treated much better than the servant. Those people are leaving their families, their own kids and parents and their country to serve our families, our own kids and our parents. They deserve lot of respect and good treatment. They simply deserve to be treated as humans.
Do we have the right to hire those people, is it slavery, are they happy? Why people in the western country don’t have maids in their houses? How do they manage?
Questions every normal human being should ask himself. Not all the answers are simple and objective.
If we visit the countries of origin of those people, we can see the extreme bad conditions they live in. Poverty that leads to illiteracy, famine, diseases and even death. This is exactly the main reason that pushes them to leave and go in an obscure adventure that might be fatal sometimes.
Some could be lucky enough to land in a wonderful and enough decent family who will treat them fairly. In this case, they probably feel lucky, as they will be away from famine and diseases, and able to provide their families with an amount that will help them improve their conditions, as buying a house.
Other domestic workers could have less luck and land in an awful family, either with a “madam” who will beat her and make her work too hard, or a “master” who will rape her.
The fact that those people are in need for our money, sometimes to the point of dying, doesn’t give us any rights to abuse them. We should always think about a point, what if the roles were reversed?
It is time to act to stop the violence and killings against the migrant domestic violence in the Arab countries.