Housemaid prostitution crackdown underway
Manama, July 8, 2012
A crackdown is underway to try and trace those gangs responsible for kidnapping housemaids and forcing them into prostitution, to prevent them from exploiting the vulnerable and ruining their lives, a top Bahraini government official said.
The latest figures show that nearly 700 domestic workers have run away from their sponsors since the beginning of the year.
'We have come across cases where domestic workers were kidnapped or convinced by some people to escape from their Bahraini sponsors only to be later found in brothels or forced into prostitution,' Labour Ministry inspections and labour unions director Ahmed Al Haiki told our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News.
He said a common tactic was middlemen such as car cleaners, who knew local neighbourhoods, to try and convince maids they would be better off running away with them.
'There are Asian groups behind these gangs who prey on housemaids in different areas and have their people in neighbourhoods, who wait for the right time to convince them to run away despite the maid having no problems with her Bahraini sponsor,' said Al Haiki.
'The runaway worker has become a culture now which is our main concern.'
Al Haiki said some of the women rescued told them their Bahraini employers paid their salaries on time, gave them proper days off and provided a decent work environment.
'The employers have no option in such cases but to file runaway case against their domestic worker and they have no clue she (maid) has become a victim of human trafficking,' he said.
The Migrant Workers Protection Society revealed it had provided counselling to a woman rescued from the clutches of one such gang.
'We were following up a case last year of a Sri Lankan housemaid who was promised by another Sri Lankan maid working in the area that she could find her a good Bahraini family, who would pay more than her current employer,' said one of its volunteers.
She said the victim ran away from her employer's house and met her Sri Lankan friend, who ended up taking her to a brothel.
'She stayed in the place for a month and we managed to rescue her,' said the volunteer. 'She told us she lost count of the number of men she was forced to sleep with.'
Al Haiki said he had met with several embassy officials in the last few months in a bid to prevent such crimes from taking place.
'It really gets frustrating with this culture of runaway workers, who end up being exploited and for women forced into flesh trade. It scars their lives.'
'I have met with representatives from Asian embassies and have asked for their co-operation in our fight to stop these crimes against domestic workers,' he added.
The increasing number of runaways has prompted the Labour Ministry to call for a tightening of regulations for housemaids and others seeking employment in Bahrain.
'Majority of the cases are Indonesians and Sri Lankans,” Al Haiki said.
'We would like to strongly put across the message through the media to all concerned stakeholders including the workers, if they face any problem, to immediately contact the police, Labour Ministry, their embassy or even the media,' he said.
“The ministry would take tough action against employers caught violating the law to try and reduce the number of such cases.”
'Nobody can be forced to work. If a housemaid or any worker is not happy with job contract, salary or working conditions, they should immediately contact relevant authorities rather than being labelled as runaway and living in anonymity,' he added.
The official said it was important for workers in such situations to know their legal status.
'Runaway and free visa arrangements are two separate issues,' he said. 'Some of these workers are runaway and think they are free visa, which is not the case, as he or she is illegal and have cases filed against them.'
Al Haiki also urged companies and employers not to keep passports of their staff.
'It is a rampant practice, but I would like to highlight that withholding passports is illegal and related to human trafficking,' he concluded. – TradeArabia News Service
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