Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Human Rights

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Human Rights

Article excerpt


Kuwaiti Abuses Continue

Hundreds of female domestic servants have fled their Kuwaiti employers and taken refuge in their respective embassies, Middle East Watch (MEW) reports. The maids, mainly from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, all report varying levels of abuse, mistreatment, and even rape.

The August 1992 MEW Report, entitled "Punishing the Victim: Rape and Mistreatment of Asian Maids in Kuwait," was compiled during a two-week fact-finding tour of Kuwait. MEW concluded that "while not all domestic servants in Kuwait suffer at the hands of their employers, there exists a significant and pervasive pattern of rape, physical assault and mistreatment of Asian maids that takes place, largely with impunity."

The abuse of the female domestic servants has occurred during a period of social hostility toward any foreigners in Kuwait. Since the liberation of Kuwait, the government has embarked on a campaign to realign the population imbalance between Kuwaiti citizens and foreign workers. The Kuwait Higher Planning Council has concluded that the large number of expatriate workers are "a threat to national security," and is seeking to redress this imbalance through limiting immigration and curtailing employment benefits. The Kuwaiti government is seeking to invert the pre-Iraqi invasion resident population percentage of approximately 60 percent expatriate workers to at least 60 percent Kuwaiti citizens by 1995.

This very public campaign against foreign workers is particularly reflected in the situation of domestic servants in Kuwait. They are specifically excluded from Kuwait's Private Sector Labor Law No. 38 of 1964, which governs conditions for most workers in the private sector in Kuwait, including expatriates. This exclusion limits any possible legal recourse to criminal or civil sanctions only. Since, MEW notes, these sanctions are very rarely applied, domestic servants often are left with no alternative except to flee to their embassies. Because they generally are unable to acquire either job transfer papers or exit visas, the maids have languished in the embassies. MEW reports that between May 1991 and April 1992, more than 1,400 Filipino maids fled their employers.

Some of the abuse experienced by the Asian domestic servants is severe. Of the 60 cases directly investigated by MEW, over one-third involved rape or sexual assault. One Filipino maid, Helen Demetillar, was admitted to Mubarak al-Kabir Hospital with her mouth gagged and her hands bound behind her back. She reported being raped by her employer. To escape him, she jumped from a fourth floor window. After treatment for injuries associated with a rape and a high fall, she was arrested on unspecified felony charges by the al-Nugra police and then returned, by the police, to her employer.

In most all of the cases MEW investigated, maids also reported non-payment of salaries (debt bondage), passport deprivation and near total confinement. …

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