Monday, October 11, 2010

Kuwait: For Abused Domestic Workers, Nowhere to Turn

Scant Protection Against Mistreatment and Abuse

Human Rights Watch
, October 6, 2010


Workers continue to spend long periods waiting at embassy shelters, including the Philippines safe house, shown here. Since 1992, the Kuwaiti government has relied on deportation as the primary method for dealing with domestic workers who face employment-related problems. Workers reported spending weeks or months in official custody, moving from embassy shelters to police stations, and from there to criminal investigation facilities, before they were sent to deportation detention.
© 2010 Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

Employers hold all the cards in Kuwait. If abused or exploited workers try to escape or complain, the law makes it easy for employers to charge them with ‘absconding’ and get them deported. The government has left workers to depend on employers’ good will – or to suffer when good will is absent.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director


(Kuwait City) – Domestic workers in Kuwait who try to escape abusive employers face criminal charges for “absconding” and are unable to change jobs without their employer’s permission, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Migrant domestic workers have minimal protection against employers who withhold salaries, force employees to work long hours with no days off, deprive them of adequate food, or abuse them physically or sexually.

The 97-page report, “Walls at Every Turn: Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers Through Kuwait’s Sponsorship System,” describes how workers become trapped in exploitative or abusive employment then face criminal penalties for leaving a job without the employer’s permission. Government authorities arrest workers reported as “absconding” and in most cases deport them from Kuwait – even if they have been abused and seek redress.

“Employers hold all the cards in Kuwait,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If abused or exploited workers try to escape or complain, the law makes it easy for employers to charge them with ‘absconding’ and get them deported. The government has left workers to depend on employers’ good will – or to suffer when good will is absent.”

Kuwait, which has the highest ratio of domestic workers to citizens in the Middle East, announced on September 26, 2010, that it would abolish the sponsorship system (kafala) in February 2011, and replace the employer-based system with a government-administered recruitment authority. While this would be an important reform, the government gave no details on what legal protections would be added for migrant workers in the country, or whether the reforms would cover domestic workers.

The country’s more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers constitute nearly a third of the work force in this small Gulf country of only 1.3 million citizens. But domestic workers are excluded from the labor laws that protect other workers. Kuwaiti lawmakers reinforced this exclusion as recently as February 2010, when they passed a new labor law for the private sector that failed to cover domestic work.

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