In a 12 second video posted online, a terrified woman identified as Ethiopian working in Kuwait as a domestic worker is seen pleading and screaming “hold me, hold me” hanging outside a building block just before her hand slips off the window and she falls onto a roof below the surface from the seventh floor building.
In the background, a woman believed to be her employer films the ordeal, and is heard telling the maid, “Oh crazy, come back”.
The incident happened in the Sabah al-Salem district of Kuwait City.
The Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah reported that the woman was subsequently rescued by paramedics and is being treated at an hospital for a broken hand, as well as nose, bleeding ears and other injuries. The newspaper also said the Kuwait police arrested the maid’s employer for filming and failing to help the victim from falling from the seventh floor in an apparent suicide attempt without trying to rescue her.
Thousands of young women from Africa and Asia work in the oil rich Gulf States, hoping to earn better income to send back home, but the dreams usually end in nightmare.
There are numerous horrific cases reported by migrant laborers of exploitation, and abuse by their employers. Domestic workers from Africa, have often complained of abuse, mistreatment and non-payment of wages. A high number of domestic workers have fled from their employers over the years over abuse, and such stories of suicide or attempted suicide are not unusual.
The Gulf States of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Jordan have continued using the old system called Kafala system, which has frustrates, and exploits migrant workers in most of these countries.
The Kafala System is designed to make migrant workers dependent on their sponsor, who takes responsibility for them and provides a working visa. It is seen as a patriarchal, exploitative, and racist system.
The Kafala System in the Gulf States
Through the use of the Kafala system under which migrant laborers are employed, the authorities in the Gulf States have failed to protect the rights of domestic workers. Many domestic workers have been victims of various forms of abuse. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged authorities in the Gulf States to end the traditional Kafala visa sponsorship system used to perpetuate much of the exploitation.
The word Kafala in Arabic means sponsorship. Employers sponsor and facilitate the visa process for migrant workers. The system is then used to monitor migrant laborers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors.
In a report HRW said most migrant laborers especially domestic workers cannot move to a new job before their contract ends, and until the employer gives consent. The rigidity of the system has subjected many workers to various human rights violations. The rights of the workers, from freedom of movement to fair wages are often abused, and the workers also face bad working and living conditions. Under the Kafala system, employers have the authority to determine working hours, and the hours are often long, and employees hardly get leave. Some of the working conditions fall outside legal contractual agreements.
The system also dictates that the migrant workers must be cut off from their families back home, not only physically. Passport are often confiscated on their arrival day by the employers or by a government official, so that they may not travel out of the country until the contract ends.