Monday, May 16, 2011

Alarming Rise in Suicide Rates Among Housemaids in Kuwait

Abused domestic worker in Kuwait

According to reports by the Arab Times, in the past two months alone, 8 maids in Kuwait have attempted suicide and most of them died. Suicide attempts among domestic workers in the Arabian Gulf are on the rise. The obvious question is why? As a Kuwaiti who grew up with maids and drivers (just like almost every other Kuwaiti), I know why. Its because in most cases they are treated worse than animals; they are rarely or never paid their salary, worked to the bone, abused mentally, physically and sexually and they have no voice and no way out so far away from their homes.

Growing up, my maid used to tell me horror stories about the way she was treated by the Kuwaiti family she used to work for. She told me they would lock her in the house when they left to work and beat her if she tried to leave. She was married and her husband worked nearby and she never got to see him; she also never got her salary, was fed disgusting leftovers and was on call all hours of the night, many times working from 5am to 2am. I was shocked, we never treated her this way; she had set hours and a fixed salary each month and her food was cooked for her and not leftover scraps, fit only for a dog. 

As horrible as her story was, it wasn't the worst story. There are much worse stories out there. One maid was tortured by her sponsor and his wife with hot metal rods, which they used to burn her legs. A 28 year old Filipina maid tried to commit suicide by drinking insect pesticide. A maid from Nepal slashed a major artery in her wrist in an attempt to end it all. A young Sri-Lankan maid jumped off of a building and died from severe brain trauma. Another maid from the Phillipines hanged herself in her sponsors home. One can only imagine the suffering that would lead to such levels of despair and desperation.

Mariam Al-Foudery is a labor activist who along with a small group of fellow labor activists have started an informal advocacy organization to lobby for increased legal protection for housemaids. If you have an interest in contributing to Bayt Al-Khidma (House of Service) please email Mariam at mariamgrad@gmail.comIn an article Mariam writes about the abuses of maids and reforms that must take place to prevent them, she mentions a hotline for maids to call if they are being abused and how that only addresses the symptoms and not the causes of the problem. [Sidebar: most maids (and especially abused maids) have restricted access to telephones anyway, so the hotline doesn't really address the symptoms either.]

Emergency hotline for abused maids in Kuwait

Human Rights Watch published a report on housemaid abuses in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Lebanon.  In it they report, "Krishnan S., a Hindu domestic worker, told Human Rights Watch, "[My employers] would not allow me to practice my religion. I did not have freedom to practice my religion in any of the places [I worked], Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Lebanon." 

I'll leave you with some more excerpts from the report: 

Latha P., 32-year-old mother of four whose employer did not pay her for five months of work, and who, when interviewed, was unable to return to Sri Lanka from Saudi Arabia because she had no money for a return ticket said, "Whenever I asked for my salary, they beat me up. I got the first three months salary somehow. I got a call that my father was really sick, then I asked for my salary and they beat me up.... They told me, "We bought you using our money, you have to work for that." 

Kumari Indunil, age 23, a former domestic worker in Kuwait says, "Even if I went to bed at 3:30 a.m., I had to get up by 5:30 a.m. I had continuous work until 1 a.m., sometimes 3 a.m. Once I told the employer, "I am a human like you and I need an hour to rest." She told me, "You have come to work; you are like my shoes, and you have to work tirelessly."

Chamali W. told us her employer's son raped her in Saudi Arabia: "All of a sudden he hugged me. I beat him with the iron, he threw the iron and grabbed my arm and dragged me to a separate room... He pushed me to the floor and removed all of my clothes. He raped me. I felt lifeless, I couldn't get up, I felt so weak."

In another case, Sepalika S. told us, "In Lebanon [my employer] did not give me anything to eat or drink, so I stole food and ate. They have a lotof food items, but they did not give me any of it. I complained once to a maid who worked downstairs in Baba's mother's housethat I was not getting any food, then Baba's mother came to know I was not getting any food so she gave me food in secret. So I had to stay in the toilet and have my meal, for four months."

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