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Every Two Days a Migrant Worker Attempts or Commits Suicide in Kuwait

On March 28, 2010

As we at continue to monitor the situation of migrant workers in the Middle East, the frequent reports on cases of suicide by workers in Kuwait continue to draw our attention. We have previously covered the phenomenon when during November 2009 there were 13 reported cases of suicide or suicide attempts by migrant workers in the emirate.

In a little over a month (35 days: February 19 - March 25), there have been 17 reported cases of migrant workers who committed or attempted to commit suicide in Kuwait. Local papers usually provide two sentences about each suicide in the "Crime" section, and their death is soon forgotten. Their nationality is sometimes mentioned, but names are not - it seems to interest no one. This harrowing trend is a reflection of poor working conditions, abuse from sponsors and the little protection migrant workers are offered in Kuwait.

Kuwait's Labor Laws

Kuwait's employment of migrant workers in based on the Sponsorship (kafala) system, which requires every worker to have a local sponsor whose consent is necessary for the worker to change jobs, even in cases of abuse. Thus, the Sponsorship system creates almost complete dependence of the worker on his employer. This dependence and lack of legal protection for migrant workers often leads to abuse of migrants by unscrupulous employers.

Following proclamations by Kuwaiti officials that the Sponsorship system will be abolished, in late 2009 the Kuwaiti parliament passed a law that stopped short of that goal. The law was the first major revision of Kuwait's 1964 Private Sector Labor Law. Despite calls from human rights organizations to include domestic workers under the scope of the Labor Law, the Kuwaiti parliament failed to do so. Thus, the law left about 600,000 domestic workers who make up about a quarter of Kuwait's 2 million migrant workers, outside the protection of the law.

Many of those who committed suicide are domestic workers who resort to suicide as the only way to escape their poor living and working conditions; some of them suffer abuse at the hand of their employers. Those maids have nowhere to turn to, since leaving their sponsor is illegal and they are not entitled to the basic rights offered to private sector workers.

Documentation of Cases

On February 19, an Asian worker attempted to take his life in Kabad by swallowing a large number of pills. On the same day the body of a 33-year-old Asian man who hanged himself was found in Murgab. The following day, a Nepali maid hanged herself to death in Fahaheel. An Indian barber ended his life by swallowing toxic chemicals on February 28. On the same day a worker plunged to his death from the 7th floor of a building under construction in Hawalli.

On March 3, a 39-year-old Asian man attempted to end his life by slashing his wrists at his sponsor's house in the Al-Rehab area. The following day, an Asian maid was killed during an attempt to escape her sponsor's apartment on the 4th floor in Salwa using sheets tied to each other. On the same day in Salmiya, an Asian maid attempted to kill herself by slitting her wrists. A Nepali worker in his 30s hanged himself to death on March 8 in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh. On March 12, an Asian maid fell to her death from the third floor when attempting to escape her sponsor's house in Mubarak Al-Kabir. On the same day a 44-year-old Sri Lankan maid attempted to end her life by swallowing chemicals in her sponsor's house in Abdullah Al-Mubarak.

On March 14 an Asian man was found dead after drinking paint in Salmi. On the same day, a Pakistani man by the name of Khadem Hussein committed suicide by hanging in his room in Khaitan. On March 17, a Sri Lankan maid hanged herself to death at her sponsor's house in Ahmadi. The next day, an Asian maid committed suicide by hanging in her sponsor's house in the Qadsiya area (on the same day a maid suffered multiple fractures after falling from the second floor when attempting to escape her sponsor's house in Ishbiliya).

On March 22, a 27-year-old Asian maid jumped from the second floor of a building in Mangaf. She survived the suicide attempt and suffered fractures. A Sri Lankan woman sustained multiple fracture after she "fell" from the first floor of a building in Fintas on March 25.