With the assistance of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, about 150 domestic workers have returned to Sri Lanka after suffering abuse in GCC countries, particularly Kuwait. Some sought refuge at the embassy in that country a few months ago. Many Sri Lankan women have journeyed to the Gulf as to work domestic help, which has alleviated unemployment among Sri Lanka’s poor. Working in the Gulf, the domestic workers’ wages can exceed that of village men in Sri Lanka, and they can save money to educate their children and provide dowries for themselves and their daughters.
However, especially if they live in their employer’s home, they can also become trapped in a dangerous and abusive situation, frequently at the hands of the women that they work for. The“Madam” of the house will often beat the maid, lock her in, and prevent her from accessing food.
Sri Lanka obtains half its foreign exchange by sending workers abroad, whose number totals about 2 million. The women who work as housemaids comprise the majority of these workers. Slavery-like conditions and frequent abuse have led many to complain to the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, which received a total of 14,704 complaints in 2010 alone. The highest percentage of complaints concerned breach of employment contract, while others were due to physical abuse and non-payment of wages.
Margaret Bailey is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.