x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sri Lanka examines 'nail abuse' of maid

Investigation of case in Jordan, where a woman claims she was forced to swallow six nails, highlights concerns for domestic workers in the Gulf.

AMMAN // The Sri Lankan embassy in Amman said it was looking into a complaint by one of its nationals who said she was forced to swallow six nails.

"A Sri Lankan doctor is examining her at the hospital but we are not in a position to comment on her case," a Sri Lankan diplomat from the embassy said yesterday.

On Sunday, an official at the Foreign Employment Bureau of Sri Lanka said the housemaid told the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in Amman that her employer forced her to swallow the nails, Agence France-Presse reported.

"We are awaiting a full report from doctors," said Kingsley Ranawaka, the head of the bureau, adding that the authorities would decide on the steps to take after looking at the medical evidence.

In Jordan, there are 15,000 Sri Lankan domestic helpers, as well as 35,000 from Indonesia and 20,000 Filipinas. The treatment of domestic workers in the Gulf has been an ongoing concern of human rights organisations.

In August, a Sri Lankan maid said the couple she worked for in Saudi Arabia hammered nails and needles into her body. Saudi authorities said there was no evidence to support the charge.

Last month, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog, underscored the plight of domestic workers in Kuwait who try to escape abusive employers.

"[They] face criminal charges for 'absconding' and are unable to change jobs without their employer's permission. Migrant domestic workers have minimal protection against employers who withhold salaries, force employees to work long hours with no days off, deprive them of adequate food, or abuse them physically or sexually," it said.

In Amman, the National Centre for Human Rights said it received 150 complaints involving maltreatment of domestic helpers last year.

"The number of complaints is more or less the same in the past three years, but the numbers of those who are mistreated are believed to be much higher," said Atef Majali, a lawyer and head of the complaints unit at the centre, adding that many abuse victims preferred to remain silent because of fears of losing their job.

"Over a month ago, two Filipinas in their mid-20s escaped their abusive employer. They were bruised. They said he beat them with a rod," Mr Majali said. "They did not want to take their case to court because they were afraid. But the case, however, was settled and they returned to their country."

Four months ago, Indonesia slapped a ban on its citizens going to Jordan as domestic workers following complaints of maltreatment. The Philippines banned its workers almost three years ago.

Khaled Huseinat, the head of Jordan's Domestic Helpers Recruitment Agencies Association, played down the maltreatment of maids and said Indonesia's move came after three domestic helpers, filmed in Jordan, said they were abused.

"The film was broadcast in Indonesia but abuse should not be generalised," he said. "There are violations from some maids, too. They run away from their employers without an apparent reason, leaving children behind unattended or, in some isolated incidents, they beat children."

Jordan has taken strides to address the abuse problem in recent years. It has introduced amendments to the labour law to give domestic workers equal access to medical care, payment of wages and access to social security in addition to granting them an annual two-week paid holiday, 14 days' sick leave, one day off a week and a maximum eight-hour working day. Those convicted of violating the law can be fined US$750 (Dh2,700).

Human Rights Watch praised the measures last year, but said enforcement remained a concern.