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Fri 19 Dec 2008 04:32 PM

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HRW urges Arab states to act to protect housemaids

Rights group calls on states to make good on longstanding promises of reforms.

Human Rights Watch urged Arab states on Thursday to make good on longstanding promises of reforms to protect female migrant workers, mostly Asian housemaids, from a multitude of abuses.

HRW, in a statement issued on International Migrants Day, called for rapid action to curb "widespread egregious abuse".

"Each day of delay leaves migrant domestic workers open to abuses such as unpaid wages, being locked in their workplaces, and to physical and sexual abuse," said Nisha Varia, deputy director of HRW's women's rights division.

HRW said millions of domestic workers, mainly from Southeast Asia and Ethiopia, are employed in the Middle East but not included in labour laws, giving their sponsors the chance to exploit migrant women without penalty.

Abuses documented by HRW include 18-hour workdays, denial of food, no payment for months or even years, confinement to the workplace, and physical and sexual abuse.

Some cases have also shown forced labour and human trafficking.

The statement said a number of Arab countries - notably Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain - have long promised action. However, none has yet been taken.

"It is encouraging that governments are finally considering serious reforms, but these proposals mean nothing until the new protections are in place and being enforced," Varia said in the statement.

Jordan, hosting an estimated 70,000 foreign domestic workers, adopted amendments in July to include domestic workers in its labour law. But it has yet to outline the specific labour protections that will apply.

Lebanon, with 200,000 domestic workers, has failed to act on promises to reform its labour laws.

HRW found that in Lebanon more than one foreign domestic worker dies each week on average, either by committing suicide or from failed escape attempts.

The organisation urged all governments to ratify the UN Migrant Workers Convention, which guarantees their human rights and promises state protection against abuse by employers, agents and public officials.

It also called on countries of origin to rigorously monitor the recruitment process in an effort to protect workers from being cheated or trafficked.

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gambit 11 years ago

If you really want to stop the abuses, just stop sending housemaids to these barbaric countries. HRW's effort will be useless because this countries simply doesn't know the very basic of the words HUMAN RIGHTS. Just wondering, why most of these abuses happen mostly in Arab countries? Please enlighten me because I can't comprehend this kind of barbaric attitude.

T Crowe Semler 11 years ago

The exploitation of women and children is a global epidemic. It does not just happen in the Arab World. Why you hear about these crimes can be directly related to the amount of “transparency” in reporting by the government and press. Many times such disturbing “barbaric actions” never reach the national / global news. Public relations organisations, which are hired to “spin” or hide these crimes within countries, states, communities, and corporations do an excellent job of “filtering” information. The exploitation of workers, especially women and children is a Global Epidemic. T Crowe Semler

Mohamed Salman 11 years ago

As the title of my post states, every story has two sides. One side shows the inhumane nature of some people (as in this article), while the other side is missed all together by some. I speak for the UAE (being a local of this country) when I say that there are many incidents of abuses but the mass majority of housemaids are treated with respect and in the most humane way possible. The role of the legal system is to provide legislation to punish those abusers and protect the rights of house-maids. Unfortunately, there are those individuals who would like to generalise calling whole nations "Barbaric" instead of taking an in depth view of things (note that the name of this website is ARABIAN BUSINESS and if Arab countries where so backward then such topics would not published let alone discussed openly as we see here). Thankfully, such individuals are the exception and most understand that our countries although developing (in the field of labour laws) progress is being made and is pushed by the decent people who are the majority of our population (our governments have always had such a bad record with human rights even with us natives). Finally, I would like to remind everyone that maids leave their own countries and look for work overseas because life in their own countries is extremely difficult so although things might seem bleak on the Arab countries side it is the maids mother country that has that people should be worried about (poverty and unemployment are just as important as abuse if not more).

marijke 11 years ago

Dear Gambit, I would like to know how you want to explain or justify women trafficking in Eastern Europe, child prostitution in Thailand, physical domestic abuse all over the world? It's very easy to call the Arabic countries barbaric, when there are so many countries in the world violating basic human rights. Don't forget that many of domestic workers and labour from Far Eastern countries often live in extreme poverty and suffer rape and other violations on a daily basis, as well as not having food and a place to live. Philippine and Indian government make a lot of money from sending workers abroad!! Be careful with such accusations to certain countries!

gambit 11 years ago

Dear Marijke, We are not talking about the issue of Europe or Thailand, etc. Don't divert them from the issue. We're talking about the issue in Arab states. And it doesn't mean that because they are poor in their mother country and their gov't's make money out of them, that you can abuse them. And I'm sorry to say that poverty, abuse and unemployment in their homeland is a different issue than the human right abuses abroad. A very shallow excuse!

Mohammed 11 years ago

Gambit, your comments only show your ignorance and prejudice. Firstly, the media report you have seen is not the complete report of HRW, it is only the part related to Middle East. Unfortunately, rights abuses against women and children takes place all over the world. It seems you have conveniently forgotten the recent case of Sabhnanis of the US who enslaved their housemaids and have been sentenced to prison. You cannot call Arab countries as barbaric. The media does not report of the 99% of the Arab families who take care of their domestic workers like their own family member. Although there is no denying the fact that more needs to be done to protect the rights of domestic workers and to ensure that guilty are punished. Lastly, if the Arab countries are so 'barbaric' why are you here.