Kamala Majhi, former Nepali domestic worker in Lebanon
My employer used to lock me up in the house and shut all the doors and windows. I used to feel like a pig, breed to be slaughtered. I was ordered to wake up at four in the morning and sleep at one at night. I used to keep awake by ironing my masters clothes.
I felt like a prisoner in my employers house - cut off from the outside world.
When I came back home everyone looked at me shocked, as they thought I was dead. Last time when he saw me I was healthy, but I returned back looking like a skeleton.
I feel pained and sad that I lost all my earnings. As I spend my days lamenting about the seven years I lost, and the mental trauma still haunts me.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?Migrant domestic workers often fall victim to deceptive job offers while in their home country and are then coerced to work in conditions upon arrival to which they did not agree. They are also at a heightened risk of exploitation because of their immigration status that ties them to their employers.
The language barrier and the cut off location of their work can leave them isolated from the community which makes it much more difficult for them to seek help in cases of abuse. Some migrant domestic workers also fall into bonded labour as a result of the transportation and recruitment costs incurred in taking up a job abroad.
Anti-Slavery International runs a project aimed at promoting and protecting migrant domestic workers’ rights. The project focuses particularly on migrant domestic workers travelling from Nepal to Lebanon for work.
NEPAL TO LEBANON
Lebanon was the number one destination for female migrants from Nepal, despite the existence of a ban on the migration of women for domestic work under the age of 30. Research (link to report) estimates that in 2011 there were around 12,000 Nepalese domestic workers in Lebanon.
Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon experience poor living conditions, long hours, no days off, being locked in the house, confiscation of their passports, non-payment of wages as well as physical and sexual abuse. They lack access to support and protection mechanisms and feel isolated, frightened and trapped. Some report having experienced a situation of forced labour, servitude or slavery. These types of abuse have led to a high number of migrant domestic workers committing suicide.
THE SPONSORSHIP (KAFALA) SYSTEM
The Sponsorship System is a set of regulations that tie a worker’s resident permit to a single employer (for the duration of her contract). Employers are legally responsible for the worker, which encourages them to not allow them out of the house without their supervision. Workers can’t even leave the country without the permission of their employer.
It leaves those who flee an abusive employer at risk of arrest, detention and deportation, whilst the perpetrators of abuse go largely unpunished.
Domestic workers are not included in the Labour Law, denying them rights other workers enjoy such as minimum wage, annual and sick leave, maximum work hours or the right to organise.
LACK OF REGULATION OF RECRUITMENT AGENCIES
Agents are often the first the perpetrators through whom abuse occurs, deceiving workers about living and working conditions. Agencies impose high fees on both domestic workers and employers, leaving them with debt and making them vulnerable to exploitation. The fees incurred by employers are often recovered by employers by illegally deducting them from salaries.
FLAWED ‘PROTECTION’ MEASURES FROM NEPAL
In 2012, Nepalese government introduced a ban on women under the age of 30 travelling abroad for domestic work. Bans make the migrant workers seek unofficial routes of migration and therefore hamper the ability of domestic workers to receive support, protection and representation of their interests.
Embassies are often the last place of protection, assistance and refuge. Yet, despite the large numbers of Nepalese migrant workers in Lebanon, Nepal has not established an Embassy or a Consulate there.
LACK OF PRE-DEPARTURE TRAINING
Pre-departure training is one of the most important element of safe migration. Despite the Nepali Government introducing some training courses aimed at migrant domestic workers, none of the returnee domestic workers interviewed in our research had received any pre-departure training, leaving them unaware of their rights, risks and with no knowledge of what domestic work overseas entails.