Modern-Day Slave Trade in Kuwaiti Papers

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Jun 6 2011

Below is an article that appeared in the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas last month about the abuses domestic workers in the Kingdom suffer and the "slave trade" of domestic workers from one sponsor to another or from recruitment agencies to Kuwaitis. We present the English translation of this unique article, whose criticism of the exploitation of migrant workers is quite rare in Kuwaiti (and other Gulf) newspapers.

The road to serfdom: Maid trade ads distort the image of Kuwait by Mohamed Tawfik

Stop! You’re in the slave market! Public human trafficking prevails.

They’ve packed their luggage and traveled to the bright spot on the Persian Gulf from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Ethiopia, Nepal, and India among others. The domestic workers in our Kuwaiti household include; servants, drivers, car washers, patient companions, house supervisors, and others.

They’ve comes from everywhere, ready to give whatever it takes in order to earn a living. It’s their mere right to work anywhere in the world, as long as they have a legal status. The universe has become a small village and the borders have been lifted in the era of open skies, thus the countries of the world have become open for everybody, no longer exclusive for its citizens only.

However, the firm-grip dominance of some humans over others has left nothing – not a single dream, or a narrow vent to breathe. The domestic workers in our country are daily being exposed to all forms of known misery. The lingering pain has become a routine for them, apparently. Although they live among us, their [way of living] is unlike ours – totally different; as they suffer a lot under deprivation, injustice, cruelty, servitude, oppression, let alone being sold in the slave markets.

At the same time when efforts to improve Kuwait's image worldwide are increasing , trying to remove Kuwait from the black list of human right records, the domestic workers are mistreated and oppressed to the extent that some of them are being denied their basic salaries. No wonder that the suicide and escape attempt rates continue to rise, even after the implementation of the new labour law which limits the prevalence of injustices against the expatriates in general. The house maids are still trapped in misery at the hands of their sponsors, which force some of them to escape from the roofs of their sponsors' houses.

Misery times

We’re not generalising here, as there are some other house maids who work in favourable conditions, and receive their full salaries. However, we should confess that the weak proceedings and loose laws can’t prevent the domestic workers from the injustice, severe oppression, abuse, deprivation of their rights, and other arbitrary practices by their unscrupulous sponsors. Some house maids don’t receive their basically low salaries for consecutive weeks, yet they fear to speak up, so as to avoid more oppression through a vicious unfair circle.

The poor maids are forced to ignore all their pain, in order to stay safe. They neglect their own rights, as long as they can keep their minimum subsistence from food and clothes. They imagine that they live in better conditions in comparison to their miserable home countries, regardless of how much they actually suffer. It’s quite known that some regimes ignore the human rights of its people who are living within its borders, let alone the expatriates living abroad.

Modern slavery

The patience of oneself to oppression, abuse, and injustice becomes bitterer when it’s associated with humiliation and liquidating the human being into a product to be traded in slave markets. It seems that we’re still living in the medieval ages. Instead of leaping forwards, we have been thrown centuries backwards. What we’re witnessing is a real human trafficking. It’s an age of modern slavery figuratively and literally, and if anyone is still grieving in shock, they can flip any local paper which seemingly belongs to the slave markets in the Mamluk Dynasty, not to the modern State of Kuwait at all! And here, I’ve assembled some of the slavery ads headlines:
• “A young maid and a decent driver are required for work.”
• “A Philippine maid to be transferred for the highest price.”
• “Ethiopian clever home maid; a house supervisor from A to Z.”
• “A skillful nurse to be transferred.”
• “We offer servants from all the Asian nationalities for competitive prices!”
• “A polite, clean, and obedient maid to be transferred.”
• “An obedient Indian servant to be transferred; He prays all the five prayers.”
• “An elegant and obedient maid from the Philippines is required, please!”
• “For the highest price – To be transferred: Beautiful Philippine, good chef, and babysitter: All-in-one!”
Usually the newspapers which include such ads raise a lot of questions, and lead to astonishment!

Human promotion

The list of ads is very long and unlimited; usually in the form of usury ads by sellers who are trying to attract the eyes of buyers, and lure them in every possible way. It looks like the buyer is promoting a product, and not a human who has rights.

There’s a question which pops into one’s mind when raising this dangerous issue, a humanly question in essence: How do those foreigner domestic workers perceive their sponsors? How do they see us? What do they say about us? And how does a human, who has been traded as a product, feels while hearing us, at the same time, uttering about living in the civilised age of the 21st century?!

Supervision needed!

What are the actions taken by the competent authorities in order to stop the slavery ads? How comes that the immoral ads are prohibited and at the same time the slavery ads, which violate the human dignity and display humans as products to be traded, are permitted?

What did the human right associations do about such ads in this critical timing which threatens our image worldwide? We don’t need to improve our image worldwide only, but before ourselves foremost. We need to instill the noble values in our young generations, in order to establish a civilised society which isn’t immersed in the medieval age practices.

Some human rights activists have raised questions about the supposed supervision on the ads which violate the human dignity, stressing on the importance of imposing regulations on the domestic worker transfer ads in newspapers.

Domestic Worker Law

It’s essential now more than even to bring the domestic workers under the labor law’s mantle, until issuing a separate Domestic Worker Law for this vulnerable groups. A new law has become a necessity to regulate the work of domestic workers, and prevent arbitrary practices, or trafficking.

Flesh profits

“I’ve been transferred for five consecutive times to different sponsors in a short period of time.” Said a sobbing Philippine maid to Al Qabas, indicating that the successive sponsors were trading her to make profits!

Required procedures for the preservation of human dignity:

There are a number of urgent steps that set a necessary action plan to protect the rights of the domestic workers in Kuwait:
1 – Forming a specialized committee to discuss and resolve the problems of domestic workers, and maids in specific, until the release of a separate Domestic Worker Law.
2 – Tightening sanctions against sponsors who violate, exploit, or physically harass their maids.
3 – Regulating the private offices and companies which import and recruit domestic workers, as well as regulating the whole process of importing maids, instead of leaving it totally random.
4 – Obligating the sponsors to transfer the maids’ monthly salaries to their bank accounts, and checking the procedures periodically.
5 – Prohibiting offensive ads in papers which are abusive to the human dignity.
6 – Raising the awareness of the maids regarding their own rights and advising employers and families about the rights of migrant workers.
7 – Coordinating between the competent authorities and human right associations in order to correctly monitor the situation of domestic workers and protect their rights.
8 – Blacklisting the sponsors or employers who violate or abuse their maids.

Conclusion

A couple of essential questions, especially after following the maid deal ads for a period of time: Can the sold maid decide whether to agree or refuse her new sponsor? And what if the first sponsor sold the maid to a new one who is barely known to her?

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East