Abused female expat workers in Bahrain up 25pc
Manama, March 23, 2014
Numbers of abused female migrant workers seeking protection have increased by 25 per cent in Bahrain, according to campaigners.
A shelter in Manama, operated by the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS), gave sanctuary to 156 women last year - up from 124 in 2012, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
Almost all the women who sought help from the society were former domestic workers who had suffered some form of physical abuse, had not been paid or were in need of medical treatment, said MWPS general secretary Beverley Hamadeh.
"Quite a high percentage have reported sexual abuse and harassment," she told the GDN.
According to latest figures compiled by the society, 156 women were given shelter in 2013, which was a 25 per cent spike compared to the year before.
The statistics show that the biggest issue the women faced was physical abuse by employers, which made up 42 per cent of complaints.
Salary was owed to 37 per cent of the women, while 11 per cent had faced sexual abuse and 10 per cent were health-related.
In 2012, 45 per cent of the women housed by the shelter had not been paid, while 44 per cent complained of physical abuse, 31 per cent of excessive workload, seven per cent sexual abuse and four per cent of complainants were sick.
Hamadeh said mistreatment of domestic workers happens for a variety of reasons, but the abuse can be traced as far back as their home countries.
"Many of the problems start in the countries of origin, because the women are misled about what their conditions of work will be - which include the hours, the salary, and even the type of work," she said.
"If they are coming from places like Kenya and Ghana then they are actually paying money to come - so they give up their savings for what they are told is going to be a higher paid job.
"In some cases, they are not even told that it's going to be work as a domestic worker."
Once in Bahrain, the women were at the "mercy of their sponsors", said Hamadeh.
"Sponsors have complete control and they can renew or cancel a visa without engaging the employee in that decision," she added.
This total control, coupled with lax restrictions on who can actually employ a domestic worker, leads to abuse, she said.
"The Labour Ministry says that you have to earn a minimum of BD350 ($923) before you can bring in a housemaid," she explained.
"Where does the housemaid's salary fit into that budget?"
MWPS chairwoman Marietta Dias said the sponsorship system was the "root cause" of problems faced by workers.
"Even in death, you can't repatriate the body until the employer gives the go-ahead to cancel the visa," she said.
"Once you are stuck in the system, you have two options: either you run away, become illegal and no-one will employ you or you stick it out with the abuse.
"Most of these people are not complaining about working 15-hour days, which is unrealistic in itself, but what they want is their salary. They want to be treated with a little respect and dignity."
She said one woman who had sought refuge at the shelter had been given so little food by her employer - a doctor - that she had to be taken straight to hospital and put on a saline drip.
However, she said the increase in the number of women seeking help reflects an increase in awareness of the MWPS' work as much as it shows any increase in violence against domestic workers. - TradeArabia News Service