Babylon & Beyond

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MIDDLE EAST: No domestic bliss

November 16, 2007 | 12:51 am

Lankans Human rights advocates have shined a spotlight on the plight of maids from South Asia imported to the Middle East. The nonprofit group Human Rights Watch has accused the Lebanese and other governments in the Middle East of failing to curb serious abuses against Sri Lankan domestic workers.

New-York-based HRW estimates 600,000 Sri Lankan women work in the Arab world, many without basic legal protections. Its 130-page report, released today, focuses on violence against Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Lebanese government exposes 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 Nadim Houry, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Too many abusive employers and unscrupulous labor agents get away with exploiting these workers without any real punishment.”

The report alleges that such workers get ripped off by brokers,  work long days, get paid as little 15 cents an hour and are forced to give up their passports. They are often barred from leaving their workplaces or communicating with their families.

Some domestic worker complaints included food deprivation as well as physical and verbal abuse, forced labor and sexual harassment and rape by their employers.

Part of the problem is that the labor laws of Arab countries exclude migrant domestic workers from rights such as a  weekly day off, limits on work hours and paid holidays.

Blogger Kabobfest notes another problem: light punishment when a major abuse case is uncovered.   

Meanwhile, Peaceful Muslimah sees the upside: while labor abuse is a reality in the Persian Gulf and Lebanon, talking about it is a step forward.  "The good thing is that these stories ARE in the news and are no longer being hidden under lovely silk carpets imported from Iran," the blogger writes.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Sri Lankan domestic workers in Lebanon were caught in limbo during last year's summer war between Hezbollah and Israel. Now, a report says they face abuse and exploitation in the Arab world. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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