A 32-year old Ugandan woman is being detained in Kuwait after having a baby in her sponsor’s home in Kuwait City.
Fatuma Nambi is being held at Sulaibiya central Jail and faces charges of adultery which carry long-term prison sentences in Kuwait and its neighbouring Gulf Arab states.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Ugandan community leader in Kuwait said that the members were still struggling to provide legal and other support to their colleague.
From their regular visits to the prison, they established that Nambi delivered the baby in her room as she could not go to a hospital without a marriage certificate. Her sponsor later reported her to police and she was detained.
The community leader added that they needed the Ugandan government’s help but with no diplomatic mission in Kuwait, all government support comes only through missions in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. In an email exchange, the Ugandan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr Rashid Y Ssemuddu acknowledged that the embassy was aware of Nambi’s case and that they were handling it with Kuwaiti authorities.
Officials estimate that 50,000 Ugandan migrants work in the UAE while 30,000 work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
Nambi’s mother, Norah Namatovu said that her daughter called using an anonymous number and told her that her phone had been confiscated, that she was in a big trouble and needed prayers. She later learnt that her daughter had given birth and arrested. Nambi had left two children with her mother in Uganda, sending monthly upkeep including school fees.
“I don’t even know where to start from; I have never been to Kuwait. It is hard to know that your child is in prison and you cannot do much about it,” said Namatovu.
Gulf countries heavily penalize extra-marital affairs amongst migrant workers, in particular for female domestic workers that have little space for privacy or free movement outside their employer’s home.
The penalties of having a child out of wedlock can carry jail terms in all GCC countries, though the length of detention depends upon factors such as the state in which the incident took place, along with one’s nationality and race.
For impoverished migrants like Nambi, a prison term no matter the charge is incredibly destructive; access to legal support is limited. Pro-bono legal aid is sparse, and at best a loose informal network most migrants cannot access. Embassies and missions often fail to provide legal support in all but the most dire of cases, restricting their intervention to administrative services only; the Ugandan community leader in Kuwait told Migrant-Rights.org that even in simple cases where worker’s passports were confiscated, the embassy in Saudi Arabia only helped them by issuing other travel documents and made no attempt to retrieve the passport or take legal action against the sponsor.
The pains to avoid uncertain, indefinite legal process pushes migrant women into a dilemma that can have tragic consequences; women often attempt to conceal their pregnancy, avoid medical care risking their own lives and that of their babies. Some women resort to abandoning or even killing their infants in fear of the repercussions. UAE newspapers often carry reports of these incidents; in one gruesome attempt in Sharjah, a Filipina maid threw her baby into a garbage chute from the ninth floor, an hour after his birth and the baby miraculously survived. Similar incidents are periodically reported from across the region.