News / Middle East

Migrant Workers Face Abuses Inside Lebanese Homes

An Ethiopian maid, right, chats with another maid from Sri Lanka, left, as they stand on balconies in Beirut (File Photo)
An Ethiopian maid, right, chats with another maid from Sri Lanka, left, as they stand on balconies in Beirut (File Photo)
Heather Murdock

If they all moved to one country, migrant workers would be the world's fifth most-populous country. In Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of women from South Asia and Africa live in Lebanese homes, working as maids. Activists say behind closed doors, abuses go unchecked and legal protection is rare.

Aid workers found this Sri Lankan woman, who asked to be called Nilu, in a hospital with wrists crushed by a hammer, welts all over her body, and a broken back.

Nilu spent six months sleeping on the floor of her Lebanese employer's kitchen. She worked seven days a week as a maid and was not allowed to go out. She says even the smallest offense, like forgetting an item on the shopping list or not noticing water on the bathroom floor, would drive her mistress to beat her.

Nilu is one of about 200,000 foreign women in Lebanon working as a maid. Many women say their hours are long and the work is hard, but they are not abused. Hailing from poorer countries like Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines, women say they come to Lebanon to make money, so they can help take care of their families at home.

Worldwide, migrant workers sent $316 billion to developing countries in 2009, often three times the amount of money coming from aid agencies and foreign countries.

The International Organization for Migration says women who travel abroad to work in homes are often vulnerable to abuses. In Lebanon, Human Rights Watch says the situation is critical. Workers who flee their employers are arrested and deported. And employers, even those accused of physical and sexual abuse, are rarely held legally accountable.

Beirut Human Rights Watch Director Nadim Houry says problems for migrant workers in Lebanon often begin in their home countries. Poorly regulated agencies make false promises to often desperately poor women.

Once in Lebanon, the women find little protection. Like in many countries, Lebanese labor laws designed to protect employees do not apply to domestic workers. In 2009, the Lebanese government adopted a standard contract for foreign domestic workers that guaranteed basic rights, like time off, and payment of wages. And while the contract is a positive step, Houry says it is not effective.

"While the contract is being signed, one, it has not yet been translated to the migrant's language, so many of them do not know what they are signing," said Houry. "But more importantly there has not been any enforcement mechanism. So these contracts, in a way, are not worth the ink that their signed on. That is it."

Inside Lebanese homes, 80 percent of employers confiscate their domestic workers' passports. Most employers do not allow the women to have a day off outside of the home. Less frequently, but still commonly, employers withhold pay. Employers pay about $3,000 to bring in a domestic worker from overseas. Houry says that employers delay wages so the workers do not run away.

Migrant domestic workers from Ethiopia outside a Beirut church say life is hard in Lebanon, and abuses are common. But, they add, they couldn't find any work at home, 03 Nov 2010
Migrant domestic workers from Ethiopia outside a Beirut church say life is hard in Lebanon, and abuses are common. But, they add, they couldn't find any work at home, 03 Nov 2010

Violence against domestic workers is also believed to be widespread. But maids rarely report beatings and sexual abuse inside their employer's homes. Those that do report abuses risk getting kicked out of Lebanon because the law requires workers to stay with their employers to retain their visas.

Houry says those that do report abuses face an uphill battle with a legal system stacked against them. Many cannot find a lawyer. The proceedings are often held in a language the workers do not understand.

"Like we have seen in all countries when it comes to domestic violence, the state is often reluctant to intervene in what happens behinds someone's private home doors," added Houry.

In the past, violence against household employees was met with fines. Employers convicted of severe beatings were jailed for less than a month. In 1999, one employer was convicted of beating her Sri Lankan employee to death. The employer was sentenced to a year and half in jail.

Director Nagla Chahda, of the Migrant Center at Caritas, an organization that provides migrant workers with legal support and emergency shelters, says as court cases become more common, the judicial system is beginning to recognize the rights of migrant workers.

"We have times when the judges are not believing what the migrant is saying, but at least we are changing their perception," said Chahda.

Caritas is working with the Lebanese government and recruiting agencies to increase protection for domestic workers. The Ministry of Labor runs an emergency hotline, and several safe houses are hidden in Lebanon.

But other aid workers call the situation for foreign maids in Lebanon "legal slavery," and say all they can do is help individual women escape and recover.

It took Nilu several months to be able to walk again after she escaped her employers' house, and now she is hoping to return to Sri Lanka. But when she gets there, she says, if she cannot find work, she will travel abroad again.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid