Domestic Workers Face Abuse in U.A.E., Human Rights Watch Says

Female domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates face exploitation because the country lacks adequate laws to protect them, Human Rights Watch said.

Women cited verbal, physical and sexual abuse from employers as well as having their passports confiscated, working long periods with no breaks and not being paid, the New York-based organization said in a report released today.

“There’s a failure to provide for domestic workers in the same way” as other migrant laborers, Rothna Begum, who authored the report, said by phone from Manila.

At least 146,000 women are working as domestic laborers in the U.A.E, according to the report, which blames the emirate’s sponsorship system, called kafala, for allowing employers to take advantage of the women. Human Rights Watch researchers said multiple attempts to discuss their findings with U.A.E authorities resulted only in a brief meeting in September.

The report, titled “I Already Bought You,” is based on interviews with 99 women in jobs ranging from childcare to cooking and cleaning, and was carried out in the U.A.E from Nov. to Dec. 2013. Most of the women were from the Philippines and Indonesia.

The U.A.E joined the governing body of the International Labor Organization, ILO, in June. That same month, the foreign affairs ministry, in a statement, cited steps the government has taken to look after domestic workers, saying the country is committed to protecting human rights. Measures included revising the contract form used by employers and examining domestic worker recruitment agencies. The ministry also said a draft law to regulate and protect domestic workers was in the process of being adopted.

Employers’ Consent

Rights monitors say that while the U.A.E has made some progress, the country should urgently pass the draft law and reform the kafala system to let workers take new jobs without their employers’ consent and without losing their immigration status.

Among Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Begum said Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have extended some of their labor laws to cover domestic workers. Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and U.A.E. have not.

The U.A.E is set to take part in ILO governing body meetings in Geneva, starting Oct. 30, Begum said.

“We would like to see the U.A.E really take a lead in the GCC on having good legislation and good migration policies when it comes domestic workers,” she said.

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