Action By Chambers Of Commerce

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Makkah have decided to meet to discuss how they can reduce their dependence on Indonesia for domestic maids. A possibility is to increase the recruitment of maids from African and other Asian countries. The decision to reduce the dependence on Indonesia is a response to the anti-Saudi campaign in the Indonesian media following the revelation of how brutally one Indonesian maid was tortured by her employer, and how another was murdered by her employer. These high-profile cases prompted the Indonesian government to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to investigate these cases.

Action By Indonesia

Apart from sending the delegation to Saudi Arabia to investigate the cases, the Indonesian President is said to have called for a cabinet meeting to discuss what to do. However, no news has been forthcoming about any decisions made or action taken. Not surprisingly, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia, who was part of the delegation sent to Saudi Arabia, had denied reports that Jakarta would stop sending local maids to the Gulf Region. After all, migrant workers generate billions of dollars for the Indonesian government.

However, one Indonesian state, which supplies nearly 70% of Saudi Arabia’s demand for domestic workers, has decided to stop sending maids there. The Governor of West Nusa Tenggara said his state had completely stopped sending maids to Saudi Arabia. He explained that this action was to put pressure on the central government, which is being urged to stop sending maids to Saudi Arabia pending an agreement between the two countries to ensure the safety of Indonesian maids in the kingdom. The Governor said, “The ban…. will continue unless the federal government responds to the state’s demand”.

Proposal To Enact Housemaid Protection Law In Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Shuria Council (appointed parliament) is said to have completed a study on proposals for protecting foreign maids and to have presented it to the cabinet for approval about 10 months ago. The publicity over the two cases of torture of Indonesian maids is thought to be factor that might accelerate action on this law.

Supply Of Indonesian Maids To Saudi Arabia

There have been mixed reports on this issue. Indonesian newspapers say that Indonesians are still lining up to go to Saudi Arabia to work as maids, to gain financial independence. These applicants dismiss the cases of torture as isolated incidents.

An official from the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, however, says that there has been a perceptible drop in numbers of Indonesians going to Saudi Arabia as maids. He said that, to ensure a sufficient supply of maids to Saudi Arabia, the authorities have signed new agreements with Cambodia and ares in negotiations in Vietnam.

Abuse Of Maids In Saudi Arabia

Reports of maltreatment and brutal torture of maids in Saudi Arabia (and the Middle East) are not hard to come by. Time Magazine recently reported on abuse of Sri Lankan maids. It reported on a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia who had been forced to swallow at least 6 nails. Another, who returned from Kuwait, had 14 nails removed from her body . Yet another case was that of a 50-year-old woman who returned to Sri Lanka 5 month after working as a maid in Saudi Arabia. Her body was dotted with small oozing wounds. Doctors later removed more than 20 nails and needles that had been embedded in her body. It seems her Saudi employers had embedded hot nails into her because they were dissatisfied with her work. The report attributed a large part of the problems that foreign maids face to failure of communication because of language differences.

A psychologist at a Saudi hospital in Madina has also spoken about how housemaids attempt to flee from their employers because of maltreatment, non-payment of wages, sexual aggression, being sent to work for other people, differences in customs and traditions, and homesickness. Dr Naif Al Marwani was speaking at a seminar on housemaids. He proposed setting up courts to solely handle cases involving domestic workers, publishing booklets on Saudi culture, making the foreign workers aware of their rights under Shariah law, commitment to laws dealing with abuse, deterrent punishments for abusers, and clear job descriptions for domestic workers.

Think About It

Is enough being done, and done quickly enough, to protect foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia? Are government agreements, laws, and special courts the solution? What can be done to improve communication between employer and employee? What can be done to temper employer expectations? What can be done to change attitudes? What can be done to make employers realize that employees are also human beings?

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