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Sri Lankan maids abused in Middle East

On March 21, 2007

Exceprts from a New York Times article, taken from Sepiamutiny.

More than a million Sri Lankans - roughly 1 in every 19 citizens - now work abroad, and nearly 600,000 are housemaids… In Saudi Arabia, the most common destination, they call Sri Lanka “the country of housemaids.”

… 15 to 20 percent of the 100,000 Sri Lankan women who leave each year for the gulf return prematurely, face abuse or nonpayment of salary, or get drawn into illicit people trafficking schemes or prostitution… Hundreds of housemaids have become pregnant, often after rapes, producing children who, until Sri Lanka’s Constitution was recently amended, were stateless because their fathers were foreigners. More than 100 women come home dead each year…


The young scion of the Kuwait house where she worked had repeatedly tried to molest her, finally pushing her to the ground and breaking her wrist… Thangarasa Jeyanthi… had a face as purple and puffy as a plum, eyes swollen shut, burn marks on her body and dried blood still around her ears. The husband and wife she worked for had assaulted her daily… They had cut her with a knife, kicked and stomped on her, tied her hands with rope and denied her food…

For Sri Lankan women, long hair is a source of pride, its absence, a source of shame. Ms. Manilariatne’s employer - her “mama” - had cut boy-short [her] hair…


… the competition from other poor nations, notably the Philippines, which together send hundreds of thousands of women abroad each year. Too many demands for housemaids’ rights, the government fears, will simply prompt the gulf countries to seek housemaids elsewhere.


They would even be taught that in the Muslim countries they were destined for, they should conceal that they were Buddhist or Hindu… they would learn how to dismantle a vacuum cleaner and say “toilet cleaner” in Arabic… how to turn on hot and cold water taps, how to run electrical appliances, how to navigate household hazards - the cleanser that could poison a child or the Clorox that could blind a maid.


Given the high incidence of fathers raping daughters with wives away, the housemaids were told not to entrust older girls to their fathers. An older lady was better, or even a home for girls… The trainees were warned not to send money to their husbands, lest they drink it away…

Read the reactions to this here.