Housemaid Faces Death

Article excerpt

A teenage Sri Lankan housemaid sentenced to death by beheading in Saudi Arabia for allegedly strangling her employer's infant has filed an appeal other case.

Rizana Nafeek was 17 at the time of the infant's death and had no legal representation at her trial. The case generated a flood of appeals on her behalf. The Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong-Kong based non-governmental human rights organization, filed an appeal through the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh on her behalf. The commission raised the required lawyers' fees of SAR 150,000 ($40,000 Cdn) from well-wishers.

While Nafeek's fate remains uncertain, the case has raised searing questions in Sri Lanka regarding the lack of legal and other protection for its 1.5 million overseas migrant workers, one million of whom are women employed as housemaids in West Asia.

Nafeek is from Mutur, a poor, mainly Muslim village in Sri Lanka's wartorn, tsunami-affected Eastern Province. While it is common for impoverished families to seek employment in oil-rich West Asia for underage children, unscrupulous job agents frequently exploit them. When Nafeek left the country in 2005, her passport said she was 23, though she was only 17.

Shortly after she was hired as a housemaid, Nafeek was assigned to bottlefeed her employer's four-month-old infant, a task for which she was not trained. The incident of the baby choking occurred within 18 days of her arrival, according to the commission. The infant's parents blamed Nafeek and called the police. It is alleged that she was coerced by police into confessing that she had strangled the infant. After being allowed to talk to an interpreter from the Sri Lankan embassy, Nafeek related her version of what had happened and, according to the commission, made a second statement to court. Nonetheless, Nafeek was charged with murder and sentenced to death on the basis of the first confession. …