This week, two cases of severe abuse of Indonesian maids by their Saudi sponsors have surfaced, one of them ending in death and the other in serious injuries.
The first case, of 23-year-old Sumiati BT Salan Mustapa was first reported by the Saudi Gazette. This initial report mentioned that Mustapa arrived in Saudi-Arabia in July to work for a family in Madina. On November 6th Mustapa was admitted to a private hospital in Madina injured from head to toe in an unconscious state. The private hospital was unable to treat her serious injuries and she was transferred to the King Fahd hospital. A worker there told the Gazette that Mustapa's body "was burned on many places, both legs were almost motionless, some parts of her skin on her head were removed and strong marks of old wounds were on her body including skin loss on lips and head, a fractured middle finger and a cut near an eye." Mustapa also showed signs of malnutrition or excessive blood loss.
Didi Wahyudri, Indonesia's citizen protection consul in Saudi Arabia told CNN that Mustapa was abused from the first day of her employment and that she was beaten badly. According to the Al-Watan newspaper report, "In room 365 at the orthopedic ward in King Fahd Hospital in Madina, Mustapa looked deformed as if her scalp had been peeled off….burns are scattered all over her lean body including her upper lip and fingers…she is bandaged all over and could hardly move or speak."
Report in the online paper Al-Saudia said today (Friday) that Mustapa's female employer was arrested in connection with the case. According to the Madina police chief, three members of the family were involved in the torture.
While the Saudi regime maintains that this is an "individual case" and that "the media have exaggerated the report", a new story coming from the Saudi town of Abha puts this into question. According to CNN, on November 11th the body of an Indonesian maid, Kikim Komalasari, was found with signs of serious physical abuse on the streets of Abha. According to Indonesian officials, the employer suspected in the attacks was arrested by Saudi authorities.
These stories of abuse are of the most extreme kind migrant workers endure in Saudi-Arabia, but abuse is not rare. When employers are given unrestricted powers over their workers in the Saudi sponsorship system, this creates an opportunity for abuse. Migrant workers cannot change sponsors even in cases of abuse, but the sponsors can have the workers repatriated at will, or prevent them from leaving the country. Domestic workers are also excluded from the protection Saudi Arabia's labor laws offer. This abuse happens because little is done to prevent it.