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Human RIghts Watch Report on Sri Lankan Women Migrants Face Abuse

FROM UN WOmen ACT e- newsletter --
From: "Human Rights Watch" >
To: >
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 4:03 PM
Subject: Middle East: Sri Lankan Domestic Workers Face Abuse

Middle East: Sri Lankan Domestic Workers Face Abuse
Labor Laws Leave Migrant Women Exposed

(Dubai, November 14, 2007) - Sri Lankan domestic workers face serious
abuses, including violence, harassment and exploitation when they migrate
to work in the Middle East, Human Rights Watch said in a report released
today. Human Rights Watch said the governments of Sri Lanka, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should do more to
protect women from labor exploitation and violence when they migrate to
the Middle East, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 131-page report, "Exported and Exposed: Abuses Against Sri Lankan
Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab
Emirates," documents the serious abuses that domestic workers face at
every step of the migration process. It also shows how the Sri Lankan
government and governments in the Middle East fail to protect these
women. The report is based on 170 interviews with domestic workers,
government officials, and labor recruiters conducted in Sri Lanka and in
the Middle East.

"Governments in the Middle East expose Sri Lankan domestic workers to
abuse by refusing to guarantee a weekly rest day, limits to the workday,
freedom of movement and other rights that most workers take for
granted," said Jennifer Turner, a researcher in the Women's Rights
division at Human Rights Watch. "For its part, the Sri Lankan government
welcomes the money these women send home, but does little to protect
them from exploitative bosses or labor agents."

More than 660,000 Sri Lankan women work abroad as domestic workers,
nearly 90 percent in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and
Lebanon. Human Rights Watch found that labor agents in Sri Lanka
charge excessive fees that leave migrants heavily indebted, and often
misinform them about their jobs. Once abroad, domestic workers typically
labor for 16 to 21 hours a day, without rest breaks or days off, for
extremely low wages of 15 to 30 US cents per hour. Some domestic
workers told Human Rights Watch how they were subjected to forced
confinement, food deprivation, physical and verbal abuse, forced labor,
and sexual harassment and rape by their employers.

Human Rights Watch found that employers routinely confiscate domestic
workers' passports, confine them to the workplace, and in many cases
restrict their communication, even with their embassy. Some employers
also withhold wages for months to years at a time. In the worst cases, the
combination of these practices traps Sri Lankan domestic workers in
forced labor.

For example, numerous employers in Lebanon refused to allow domestic
workers to return home during the July 2006 war. Human Rights Watch
interviewed several domestic workers whose employers refused to return
their passports and pay withheld wages owed to them so that they could
return to Sri Lanka.

The labor laws of Lebanon, like the laws of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the
UAE, categorically exclude migrant domestic workers from basic rights,
such as a weekly day of rest, limits on work hours, paid holidays, and
workers' compensation. Immigration sponsorship laws restrict domestic
workers' ability to change employers, even in cases of abuse.

The report finds that Saudi Arabia's policy of requiring employers to
approve exit visas for domestic workers before they leave the country
effectively traps them and greatly increases the risk of abuse and forced
labor. Saudi Arabia proposed an appendix to the labor law two years ago,
but it has not yet been published and the government has not to date
extended equal labor protections to domestic workers.

The UAE introduced a standard contract for domestic workers on April 1,
2007, and has proposed a new law for domestic workers. Kuwait also has
a standard contract for domestic workers. But the report said that these
contracts give domestic workers separate and weaker protections than
those in the main labor laws.

"Middle Eastern countries need to do a lot more to stop abuse of domestic
workers," said Turner. "The governments of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait and the UAE should extend labor laws to domestic workers,
ensure their complaints can be heard and reform immigration laws so that
workers aren't tied to employers."

Sri Lanka extends fewer protections to citizens who travel abroad to work
than other labor-sending Asian countries such as the Philippines. The
government fails to adequately monitor and regulate abusive practices by
recruiting agents and subagents in Sri Lanka. Its consular officials often
provide little or no assistance to domestic workers who approach them
with cases of unpaid wages or abuse. Domestic workers returning to Sri
Lanka confront obstacles to filing complaints and receive minimal
services at a government-run shelter for arriving domestic workers located
near the international airport.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Sri Lankan government to improve
regulation and monitoring of recruitment agents, as well as services for
abused workers in consulates abroad.

To read the report, "Exported and Exposed: Abuses Against Sri Lankan
Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab
Emirates," please visit:

For more of Human Rights Watch's work on Women's Rights, please


Jensine's picture

Wonderful to see you on PulseWire!

Hi there
How exciting to see you here! Thank you for joining this learning journey with us!! I'm looking forward to hearing more about your passionate work and also, the voices of many women in your network.

The resources you have shared are so important. We are discussing how to adapt the site to create a place where news stories like this can have more visibility to the community. All ideas welcome - in all areas!
Big hug,
Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

Gene's picture

Very Helpful to keep up with

Many of us were not at all aware of the world in the past. That is no longer possible. We need stories of the type you have written to keep us aware. My motto is 'Love Globally, Act Locally'

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