Violations of the rights of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia

There are 9 types of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, whose numbers have increased by about 465,000 workers, during the last quarter of 2020, to reach 4 million workers.

The Saudi Economic newspaper reported that the number of domestic workers in Saudi has increased by 14% during the last quarter of last year.

Servants and domestic workers constitute about 42% of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, whose number reached 1.56 million workers, according to the newspaper, which indicated that the two professions represented about 79% of the total domestic workers in Saudi Arabia at the end of the fourth quarter of last year.

The 9 professions include housekeepers, drivers, servants and house cleaners, cooks and caterers, guards of houses, condominiums and rest houses, house gardeners, house tailors, house nurses, tutors, and nannies.

The domestic labor sectors

Domestic workers of different specializations form a huge workforce of about 25% of the total employment in Saudi Arabia in all sectors in the country until mid-2021.

However, they suffer from unfair living and humanitarian conditions, as those recruited to work in homes, are hardly protected by their governments, especially as they come from countries with weak economic conditions that forced them to work in this field, such as Sri Lanka, Mauritania, the Philippines and other countries of the world.

The recruitment offices also do not check on them with the employers and delivers them to the Saudi sponsor, who considers the maids as private property.

This has created a widespread slave trade market in Saudi Arabia. The sponsor takes the passport and official documents from the maid to restrict her movement and keep her under his control, which resulted in the nonpayment of the agreed wages, working unlimited hours, sexual harassment, and rape for many maids, and if they complain, she faces accusations of attempting to steal the house or dealing violently with children, which would result in her imprisonment and deportation later without receiving any rights. In many cases, maids were sold on social media.

An emerging market for slaves

On March 1, 2018, the Moroccan website “Ya Beladi” published pictures of Moroccan domestic workers “for sale” on Saudi Twitter accounts. These images have been shared on social networks and many sites where they offer “waivers” for domestic workers of all nationalities.

This is illegal but appears to be permissible in the Saudi “sponsorship” system, which makes domestic workers completely hostage to the employer.

Social networking sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have become new arenas for companies hiring domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

The selling of domestic workers became known through a Twitter account called “Marketer Umm Ghada”, which has nearly 2,000 followers and was created in October 2013.

At least 41 Sri Lankan foreign workers are detained in Saudi Arabia for up to 18 months. Three of them have children being held with them, and one of them is in dire need of medical care.

In addition, none of them were informed of any charges against them, and none of them had legal support explaining to them the duration or reasons for their detention.

Thousands of women are subject to house arrest by the sponsors without anyone knowing anything about them, and in previous periods, many of them were subjected to murder and enforced disappearance without any legal prosecution, as the maid often does not communicate with her family or the embassy of her country In Saudi Arabia. 

These problems exacerbated the suffering of this workforce in Saudi Arabia, in addition to the bad regulating laws that deprived these workers of laws to help them obtain their rights.

Action Required

The major responsibility falls on the host country to provide legal and moral protection for those who do such business on its territory, as these practices are a result of the absence of an appropriate legislative environment and a deterrent punishment.

The responsibility also falls on the countries that export labor to Saudi Arabia, as it should provide protection to its citizens and follow up their affairs through the embassies in those countries.

It is the responsibility of the international community to put pressure on the Saudi government to provide legal and moral protections for these workers and to abide by international norms and laws regulating this matter.

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