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Kuwait: Domestic Worker Tortured and Enslaved for Three Years

On October 10, 2014

Vanessa, a 25-year old Malagasy migrant, will spend her 26th birthday at Kuwait's shelter for domestic workers. On October 1, a person (unidentified for their safety) helped Vanessa to escape her sponsor's house. She arrived at Bayan police station where she recounted a harrowing and all-too common tale of abuse; since her arrival in Kuwait over two years ago, she was essentially enslaved unable to leave.  For a year and a half, Vanessa's diet consisted only of water and bread. Her hands still swell with pain because her sponsor forced her to wear too-tight latex gloves round-the-clock; according to an official medical report, her employer prodded a metal object into her eye, causing Vanessa to permanently lose partial vision. Her employer also left evidence of abuse on her back, now covered in scars from scissor attacks, and her nails, pulling some of them off entirely.

For over two years, Vanessa lived in her employer's house undocumented, as her sponsor refused to renew her papers.

Latest picture of Vanessa taken at the police station

Latest picture of Vanessa taken at the police station

Vanessa's lawyer, Mohammed Dashti, previously filed a case against the same employer for enslaving and abusing three domestic workers. The employer is a married, middle-aged woman who works as a doctor at al-Adan hospital. One source told that the employer was able to escape accountability for previous abuse cases because she works at a state hospital and is married to a retired top Health Ministry official.   Kuwait has no mechanism in place to block abusive employers from hiring domestic workers, in part because of the many obstacles domestic workers face in reporting abuse and winning cases against their employers in the first place.

Vanessa's employer is charged with "beating that caused permanent disability," though her sponsor should be tried for both torture and forced labor. Like many domestic workers who have endured years of torment, Vanessa wants only to receive her past wages and return home, too disillusioned to believe her employer could face any proportional penalties.

Domestic worker's social and legal marginalization contributes to the preponderance of abuse against them; the criminalization of 'absconding' from an employer's home coupled with the inherent isolation of live-in domestic work situates workers in an incredibly vulnerable position, further exacerbated by the judicial systems failure to meaningfully penalize abusers. Yet, authorities continue to dismiss repeated calls to regulate the domestic worker sector, dismissing abuse as anecdotal rather than systematic and clinging to culturally relativistic defenses to avoid reform.