x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Call for psychiatric tests to vet domestic staff after double murder

An Ethiopian housemaid was sentenced to death for stabbing her employer's wife 117 times after an argument over iftar preparations.

Victims of trafficking are looked after at the Ewaa Shelter for Women and Children.
Victims of trafficking are looked after at the Ewaa Shelter for Women and Children.

RAS Al KHAIMAH // Housemaids should have a psychiatric examination in their home countries before they are offered a job in the UAE, recruiters said yesterday.

They said no measures were in place to prevent mentally unstable candidates from entering the country or to help those who might crack under the immense pressures of the job.

"I believe maids should undergo a psychiatric evaluation in their home country," said Emma Depad, 45, manager of a recruitment agency in Abu Dhabi that hires housemaids from the Philippines and Indonesia.

"Maids often suffer from homesickness and cannot cope well with stress in the employer's home, which are factors that may lead her to do something against her will."

An Ethiopian housemaid was sentenced to death by firing squad last week for stabbing her employer's wife 117 times after an argument over iftar preparations.

She dragged the woman's lifeless body into a bedroom where her two-year-old daughter was sleeping and set fire to the apartment before fleeing.

The housemaid had been in the country for only 20 days before she committed the double murder, and had already been dismissed from two other homes in 10 days.

The General Directorate of Residence and Foreigner Affairs in Ras Al Khaimah could not say whether any action would be taken against the maid's former agency.

Other companies that recruit housemaids said it was normal to give candidates two chances to settle with a family before they are repatriated at their own cost.

In 2008, the Philippines government proposed mandatory psychological tests for Filipinas going to work as housemaids overseas.

The women would be tested to determine whether they could handle the stress of employment abroad. Those who failed the tests would be trained in handling stress by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The National has been unable to establish what happened to the proposal, but no such mandatory testing exists in the Philippines.

Delia Mateo, a recruitment agent who worked as a maid for four years, said psychological testing was unnecessary because it was impossible to predict how maids would react to the physical and mental demands of working overseas.

“It is a challenge,” said Ms Mateo. “Most of them are being overworked. Not some, most of them. They are being overworked because there are no proper timings, no proper rest, they are not given proper food. Sometimes they are abused. So you get psychological pressures.”

For those strong enough to seek help, the options may seem too extreme: there are Ewaa shelters in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah for victims of human trafficking, and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children offers help in cases of abuse.

A RAK recruitment agent said criminal behaviour among housemaids was rare. The woman, who has six years experience in recruiting, said her agency repatriates only about one in 20 women.

Mental health problems, on the other hand, are common: “Sometimes maids are abused here. In this business, we have a lot problems with their mental health. But if a housemaid has mental problems we cannot monitor it.”

She said she found it difficult to sort the trivial complaints from the serious ones. “Sponsors complain for very small problems, like hygiene. Every day I have complaints.”

Within 30 days of a housemaid’s entry into the UAE, she must take a medical fitness test and receive a certificate of good health. There is no psychometric component to that test. She then gets an employment stamp in her passport and a labour card.

Yuri Cipriano, chairman of the UAE branch of Migrante, a Filipino migrant rights group, said it was not necessary for maids to take psychological tests.

“It will just be an additional cost to the worker,” he said. “I don’t think it will address the problems of housemaids who suffer from various forms of mistreatment. They need to be protected by the UAE’s labour laws.”

Neither the Ministry of Labour nor the Ministry of Interior could be reached for comment.