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Kuwait Times Reports about the Wave of Suicides by Maids in the Country

On January 5, 2010

The Kuwait Times is the first newspaper to report about the wave of suicide and suicide attempts in Kuwait that occurred in November. Apparently they did so after reading some of our reports here on Migrant-Rights. In the first paragraph, the paper states that we've reported 13 cases of suicide by migrant workers. However, the 13 cases include attempted suicides, which thankfully ended without death, "only" with serious injuries.

The Kuwait Times interviewed two of the workers who fell from balconies in Kuwait and are now recovering from their injuries. They described a life full of hard work, and mental, physical, and sexual abuse from their sponsors, as well as constant sleep deprivation, which drove them to commit suicide in one case, or to try to escape in the other. These stories show the real causes of this massive trend among maids of "falling" from balconies in Kuwait and other countries in the region.

Dying to escape: the desperation of Kuwait's abused maids

Published Date: January 05, 2010
By Ben Garcia, Staff Writer

KUWAIT: Thirteen suicides of migrant workers were documented in Kuwait in November 2009 alone by Migrant Rights, an international organization for migrant workers. According to the Migrant Rights webpage, not a week goes by in Kuwait without a report about a maid setting herself on fire, hanging herself, drinking detergent, or mysteriously 'falling' from a roof or balcony.

In investigating this phenomenon, the Kuwait Times spoke with two Filipina housemaids, 'Elena' and 'Veronica' (not their real names), who are currently receiving treatment in Al-Razi Hospital after jumping from their sponsors' second floor apartments. Both women's 'falls' which resulted in their hospitalization were reportedly recorded as suicide attempts and would have been recorded as successful suicides, had they died. Both women survived, however, and told their stories to the Kuwait Times.

Elena began by explaining that on December 30, she requested permission from her sponsor's wife to take a day off on January 1, New Year's Day. The sponsor's wife initially agreed to her request, but on December 31 apparently changed her mind, telling Elena that after incurring her husband's disapproval over some unspecified action the day off had been canceled.

The woman then said something to Elena which the maid did not catch, leading to her asking the 'lady' politely if she could repeat the words in English. The woman misinterpreted Elena's request as disrespectful, flying into a rage and being verbally abusive and offensive.

I tried to pacify my female employer," Elena explained. "I told her I was sorry and said that I wasn't going to go out any more this New Year. But she kept going on, so I told her that she could send me back to my agency instead. I got my bag, but before I could leave my room she called my male boss and told him that I was getting wild - of course this wasn't true. She told me to stay in one corner until my male boss arrived. When he arrived, they talked in Arabic and after a while he stood over me and hit my head three times, telling me that I couldn't leave and had to work for them for two years. My male boss only stopped when his wife intervened.

Elena broke off, understandably still emotionally traumatized after her ordeal, before continuing. "Right after that incident, I called my agency and told them to get me away from my sponsor. But the secretary at the agency told me to stay and forget the punch to my head, saying that it had only happened because of my stupidity and that the pain would go away anyway.

After the incident, the sponsors locked Elena inside their second-floor apartment in Dasma before going out, instructing her to carry out her duties or face further punishment. "When they left, I tried to think of a better way to escape," Elena explained. "When I looked down from the second floor, it was high and I couldn't think of a better way to escape but to shout while holding onto the window frame. I thought the people from the first floor could hear me anyway and they'd help. I did as I planned and while I was hanging out the window a lady from the first floor tried hard to rescue me; she provided me with a ladder, but I lost my grip of the window frame and fell.

Elena, who sustained multiple bone fractures, in her hands, hips and legs in the fall, is scheduled to undergo a major operation today. Her sponsors, meanwhile, turned up at the hospital not out of concern for her, but to tell her that they had filed a case against her for attempted suicide and for stealing valuables, although the few goods that Elena has are inside her suitcase - which they packed and brought to the hospital with them for her.

My sponsor gave the bag to me; it's in my [hospital] locker right now, but I haven't opened it yet," Elena said. "My madam told me that I took valuable things from their house and that she has filed a case with the police against me. I'm not worried because I don't do such things. There is a [security] camera inside their house anyway, so how could I steal valuables?

Elena, who is married with three children back home in the Philippines, arrived in Kuwait on March 25, 2009. In fact, this couple were Elena's second sponsors after she left her first job because, she says, the male sponsor there sexually harassed her.

'Veronica,' meanwhile, is currently recuperating at Al-Razi Hospital after being rushed there on November 19 last year after falling from a window of her employers' second-storey apartment in the Salem area during an escape attempt that went horribly wrong. While attempting to lower herself to the ground using blankets knotted together, Veronica instead fell on the downstairs apartment's balcony, breaking both legs and doing serious damage to her spine.

Veronica's case is even worse than Elena's. She told the Kuwait Times that her boss had refused to pay her her wages for a year after 'buying' her from the recruitment agency for KD 600. "I remember when I was due for my first month's salary, I told her that I could repay the KD 600 perhaps, but not right away since I have my own family to feed back home," Veronica said, tears welling in her eyes. "She didn't want to give me anything. But I went down on my knees to her, saying that my family needs the money desperately. I knew that I was degrading myself immensely, but that was the only way to convince my employer that I was serious about getting my salary. I did that and I can do that for my kids.

Eventually, Veronica said, escaping through an open window was the only way she could see of saving her life and sanity since her employer would always lock the main door of the apartment, as well as exposing her to constant and brutal violence.

Many times my boss would punch me in the head, even for a very small mistake," she continued. "As well as this, they gave me only noodles to eat. If they went out to restaurant, they might bring me leftovers. If their children refused to eat, my boss wouldn't give me any noodles to eat as a punishment for their kids not eating.

As with Elena, Veronica's employers have also brought a charge of attempted suicide against her. According to both women, however, the CCTV cameras in their sponsors' homes will reveal the truth.

Elena and Veronica both said that as well as being expected to perform all the housework and other maids' duties, they were also expected to act as nannies to their sponsors' children, with Elena's wards being aged seven, five and two, while Veronica's sponsors' children were aged four, one-and-a-half and six months. The women were expected to take full responsibility for the children, day and night, with both saying that they were allowed only three to four hours' sleep per night.