Joy first arrived in Qatar in April 2019, to what seemed a healthy work environment, good pay, and fair employers. About 18 months into her contract, things started unravelling as the employer began to sexually harass her.
“In the beginning, they were good to me. Food, work, everything was good. They paid me 1500 riyals,” she says. The household comprised just her and the Qatari couple who sponsored her.
In October 2020, the employer started sexually harassing her. He would enter her room without consent and grope her. Scared that she may not be able to dodge his advances for long, Joy called the police on 20 October and was rescued. However, shortly after, she received an alert on her phone – an ‘escape’ report. She was moved to the detention centre and was deported a few days later.
Joy’s case is just one of many where workers, even when they muster the courage to report abuse, are cowed down by discriminatory laws. Joy followed the correct process — complaining to the police and her embassy herself, and taking the help of civil society volunteers to file a complaint with authorities — but the will of the employers prevailed.
As per Qatar's Penal Code, false reporting of criminal offences (which includes absconding charges) is punishable imprisonment and financial penalty.
Article 190: Whoever knowingly and falsely presents a written or oral report alleging a criminal offence requiring a judicial penalty, to a public officer empowered to act upon the information shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years and/or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Qatari Riyals (QR 10,000). The same penalty shall apply if the officer who receives the information is not empowered to act on the information.
However, misuse of absconding laws by employers is rampant across all GCC states, including Qatar.
Qatar's Penal Code also criminalises sexual harassment.
Article 291: Whoever offends a female by words or makes a sound, a gesture or a display for the purpose of letting her hear the word or the sound, or see the gesture shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year and/or a fine not exceeding five thousand Qatari Riyals (QR 5.000). The same penalty shall be imposed on any person who violates the privacy of a female.
For Joy, a single mother of three, laws that exist on paper are of little consolation as the system had failed her. She faces distressing uncertainty with the unplanned termination of her job and income.
The employers against whom no case now exists will be free to recruit another worker.
Footnote: Migrant-Rights.org had been in touch with Joy directly and indirectly since the time she was taken to the police station. She spoke to us once again on reaching home the night of 26 October.