Thursday, December 2, 2004

"Alice was 25 when she left her job in Manila, the Philippines. She is a qualified civil engineer, yet her salary was not enough to pay for her four brothers and sisters to go through school. When she saw an advert offering well-paid posts as civil engineers in Kuwait, she contacted the recruitment agency immediately. She had to pay half the agency's fees up front, agreeing to repay the rest on taking up her position. But when she arrived in Kuwait she was told to sign a contract to work as a domestic servant. The agency refused to allow her to return to the Philippines, insisting that she take up the post and pay them the money she owed."(

"Philippine Labour Attaché Leopoldo de Jesus revealed that the number of runaway maids during the past two months reached 260...
..Of around 73,000 Filipinos working in this country over 40,000 are engaged in household services. Many of them, however, have been experiencing mistreatments and abuses from their sponsors. "(Kuwait Times)

"Two million Asian maids are subjected to physical abuse, beating, sexual harassment, rape in Gulf states" (Middle east News)
"Kuwait is issuing new regulations to improve working conditions for more than 400,000 Asian domestic servants...the law would stipulate a minimum wage, a weekly rest-day, a limit on working hours and payment of overtime"(Jazeera)
Number of years that these standards have been international law:
The International Labour Organization (ILO) regulations recommend the following with regard to work conditions:
  • limit the hours of domestic workers by specifying:
    -a forty hour work week, with adequate remuneration for overtime work;
    -the specification of the maximum hours of work permitted per day;
    -a fixed uninterrupted rest period of eight hours per day;
    -a limition on the hours spent "on call" and adequate remuneration for those hours;
  • ensure that minimum wage laws and regulations apply to domestic workers and that domestic workers are included within the minimum wage fixing system, having due regard to the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, the relative living standards of other social groups and economic factors;

(From HRW report about Abuse In Saudi Arabia)

Reports and articles to look at:


"On July 1, 2003, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families* will enter into force. Its primary objective is to protect migrant workers, a particularly vulnerable population, from exploitation and the violation of their human rights...

...At present, the impact of the Convention remains limited, given that it has not been ratified by countries in either Europe or North America, where nearly 60% of the world’s migrants live (56 and 41 million respectively), nor by other major receiving countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Japan or Australia." (UNESCO)

Abuse happens worldwide, including in Europe and the US, but this is about abuse here because we live here..and it's shameful.


Oliver said...

Interesting Blog. Keep up the good work.

Along similar lines, check out

Apparently, the money being thrown around here to build a future for the young folks, the whole Kuwaitization thing, has turned into a blue chip industry of non-accredited colleges with nebulous ties to American colleges back in the states. Is this a case of the rich trying to soak the middle class or the very rich soaking the only mildly rich?

Human cattle comes not only from the Philippines.

sarah said...

Zaytuni: I couldn't get the first link http://teacherinkuwait/ to work.

About the education issue: In the US, accreditation is important, because unaccredited schools can take students' tuition and (essentially) not give an education in return. Some of them don't have adequate classrooms, teachers, etc. Also, there are unaccredited colleges on the internet, where you give them a lot of money and they give you a "diploma" in return (without taking any classes).

Even if these private schools in Kuwait don't have US accreditation, it seems like Kuwait should be able to monitor them. Does Kuwait have something equivalent to a Board of Higher Education? Does Kuwait currently recognize the diplomas from AUK?

As for the domestic servant situation. I sure hope they can solve this problem. I don't know why people from Asia keep applying for jobs in Kuwait. Are they really so distitute that they would risk their lives and give up their civil rights for a job? Kuwait has a serious human right's issue. I keep telling people that Kuwait has "no crime" meaning: you can walk down the street without getting mugged; you can leave you window open at night without worrying about getting murdered in your sleep. However, Kuwait has a serious problem with crimes within the household. There are problems with servant abuse, spousal abuse, and child abuse. I still have nightmares about the child abuse I witnessed or heard about when I was a kid. I was an adult when they finally decided that teachers couldn't hit kids at schools. But parents can still hit their kids without a government organization coming after the parents. Men can still hit their wives, and if the wife doesn't have a supportive family (or a lot of scars and courage), I don't see how she can get away from the man. And everybody can hit a servant.

I can go on and on about this, but I should stop here. I really enjoy your site. I mean, it's often a "downer" but it's nice to hear someone in Kuwait say something real, and not just talk about the new mall or what's on TV (even though I secretly enjoy talking about the new mall or what's on tv. . . ). Have a good day!

minky said...

Yes, there may be some people who abuse their servants in Kuwait (and these are not just Kuwaitis but other Arab nationalities. However, I think it is high time we hear about the positive side to this story.

If the situation were as out of hand as it is made to sound, then no one would be coming to work here. On the contrary, many Philippinos, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Sri Lankans have built homes and set up fluorishing businesses as a result of their jobs in Kuwait. Why don't we hear about the enormous amounts of money feeding their countries' economies as a result of their work in Kuwait?

And yes, when you are living in abject poeverty, you will risk everything to make sure you change your situation in life. My maid called me from the Phillipines only 3 days after she had gone back home saying that she wanted to return as soon as possible after 30 days and not the cusotmary 60 days holiday. She said she had no money (although she had taken about 3 and a half months salary with her). Sure she wants to return: here, she has a large bedroom with ensuite bathroom. She has a TV with satellite. She eats and lives for free. We provide her with all her clothing, twice a year from head to toe. We buy her all her toiletries and needs on a monthly basis. Her medical needs are free. Whenever she wants to go out (monthly) she can go. She has hot and cold running water in her bathroom. She has all automatic utilities: vaccum cleaner, automatic washing machine, etc... She can send her whole salary home without spending a penny- but she chooses to spend half of it on mobile phone top up cards. And in other households, I have seen maids with more priviliges than this.
I am not saying that abuse does not occur. And one case of abuse is enough to mar the whole picture of the domestic worker situation in Kuwait. But I will repeat, if the situation were so unbearable, there would be no foreign workers here.

Drunk'n'Gorgeous said...

Kudos on an awesome post, Kwtia! I feel very strongly about this subject. First of all, I prefer referring to our hired help as "helpers". I refuse to call them maids.

Second, most of the arabs that are prone to abusing their helpers be it physically, sexually, mentally or otherwise are ignorant. Not ignorant in the sense that they don't know that what they're doing is wrong, but ignorant in that they haven't been taught otherwise and have most likely had their fair share of abuse in turn. Very few people do it out of plain maliciousness. They do it 'cuz they're ignorant and 'cuz they can and will get away with it. I'd like to say there are no repurcussions but sadly there are.

Kuwaity people for example, who leave their pre-teen children alone at home with a helper whom they (the parents) have been known to abuse in one way or another, in turn suffer at the hands of their helper. The helper loses his/her mind and does something horrible (ranging from slapping the kids around to pulling their hair to isolating them and locking them up in dark rooms to burning them to raping them to stabbing them and so on) to the children. The helpers go after the kids for vengeance. Not that what the helpers are doing is right but it's the parent's fault for inflicting damage on the helpers in the first place.

In our house, our maids are allowed to practice whatever faith(s) they choose. They are given Fridays off, and are given pocket money which is not to be confused with their work pay. That's not to mention their own air conditioned rooms complete with bathrooms, and kitchenettes. They are provided with the foods they prefer, clothes they themselves choose, and they even have a satellite dish that broadcasts only indian channels. If a family thing (funeral, wedding,etc..) occurs, my parents let the helpers go back to their countries (dad pays for their plane ticket and everything as well as additional money to help them along) for a period of as long as two months, no questions asked. That's not counting thier other 2 months paid vacation (back to their countries) every two years or so. The medical needs and such go without saying. All in all, the majority of people who sign up to come to Kuwait to work as helpers are living a life of much higher quality than the life they would've lived back in their own countries had they stayed there. They are allowed to provide for their families, in a healthy, safe evironment. Also, like Mink said, the amount of money makes it worth it, in some cases.

Sadly, the people in Kuwait forget that their helpers are actual human beings with real feelings, wants, and needs. They cheat them out of their money, rape them, beat them, and so on. Most of the time it's provoked but that's only because of the language barrier. An old kuwaity women will scream at her newly arrived pinoy helper to "sab3ay ill im-ma3een". Naturally the helper won't understand and so the old kuwaity lady will proceed to inflict verbal abuse which will gradually grow to physical (old ladies will resort to pinching and twisting if need be and I speak from personal experience) I mean how the hell is the helper supposed to know what "sab3ay" means if I, a 20 year old kuwaity have no idea what it means.

Also, physical abuse (of hired help or otherwise) can be found in countries all around the world. Helpers DO need somebody to protect them 'cuz their embassies over here (in Kuwait) just aren't cutting it.

kwtia said...

nice long comments guys..
I just have to say that just because the salaries and the living conditions in someone's home country are dismal does not mean that they should be thankful for anything above that. There should be standards that are fair and just, that's why we have things like the ILO..what would you accept as treatment that respects your dignity as a human being? How many people actually apply that to their employees?
I don't think everyone treats their employees as horribly as a good number of Kuwaitis and other nationals do, I don't think anyone suggested that.I am sure that many people are thankful for the chance to have a job and the ability to support a family. We are all grateful for our ability to earn a living.
However the problem is that there is no law (as of yet binding) that protects those in the weaker position, nor is there a general consciousness that prevents some employers from seeing domestic workers as anything more than objects created to serve them. They don't recognize them as 'persons' with feelings and families and hopes and dreams, just like everyone in this world. This allows for the abuse and the humiliation however extreme or however unintended to continue without question.
It makes me squirm when I hear that workers here are better off than they would be back home. ok fair enough in some households that may be true, however some people (not you Mink, I know what you meant when you mentioned it, and i know you don't think this) use it as though it's supposed to excuse the fact that domestic workers are not paid a living wage, have no rights to speak of (though that is changing), and are at the mercy of the employer and the company that brought them over (sometimes under false pretences). Because lets face it, it's luck whether you end up in a decent houshold like DnG's or Mink's or whether you end up in one where they chain you on the balcony like an animal, or when you are beaten and raped and spit on, or where it gets so bad that you throw yourself out a window just to get away. These are all real examples. Go to the hospital any given day and ask to see an asian worker who has jumped out a window..or ask for someone with 'maid syndrome' know what that is? Thats when all your bones from your heel to your hip crack because you landed on your feet jumping from a high window..It's got a name like that because it's women who work in people's homes who end up coming to hospital in droves with that problem.
The issue is not one of comparison between countries as much as one in which you ask yourself what kind of a society you want to be part of? One that fights for greater rights for those that are voiceless or abused(even if it's not a widespread problem), or one that prefers the status quo and would rather just sweep things under the carpet?
People's safety and their dignity and their rights should not be things left to chance. They should be protected through social encouragement and legal structures that are enforced, at least that's what I think.

shady q80 said...

Ahhh...this makes me cringe.