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Maids in the Middle East: Little better than slavery

AS a maid working in Saudi Arabia, Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie suffered at the hands of her Saudi employer and his wife, who skewered her body with at least 24 nails and needles (pictured). Her case was unusually brutal, but the abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East is all too common.

Huge numbers of migrant domestic workers, mostly from Asia and Africa, are employed throughout the region. Some 1.5m work in Saudi Arabia, 660,000 in Kuwait and 200,000 in Lebanon.

(…)In much of the Middle East domestic workers are also excluded from legal employment protection. There has been talk of reform, but little has come of it. In a lonely example Jordan extended its labour laws in 2008 to cover domestic workers.

In June the Lebanese ministry of labour set up a hotline for workers’ complaints. HRW has been monitoring the hotline which, it notes, has not been advertised to migrant domestic workers, is open only between 8am and 1pm, and has no translators. In the first month it did not receive a single call from a domestic worker. NGOs and religious organisations have done better. They have set up text-message numbers so that maids trapped at home can report abuses and get free legal advice.

The above article was published in economist.com on September 2nd, 2010.

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