The plights of maids

Al-Razi last stop for distressed maids

By Chidi Emmanuel, Staff writer

KUWAIT: Lying helplessly on her bed in the female ward of the Al-Razi Hospital, Sarah (last name withheld), a Sri Lankan maid, could not contain her tears as she narrated her ordeal. "I had no option other than to jump from the third floor of the building after I received the worst beating of my life from my madam. She locked me inside the bathroom and threatened to skin me alive when she returned from work," she said, groaning in pain. According to the nurses, Sarah has undergone three surgical operations. She fractured both legs and her spine when she tried to escape her madam's wrath by jumping from the third floor of the building.

As cases of killings, suicides and attempted suicides continue to grab the headlines in Kuwait's newspapers, one cannot but wonder why all these domestic workers are taking these extreme measures rather than living in sorrow, fear and unhappiness. Some of these maids claimed they have been subjected to extremely hostile conditions, which forced them to attempt suicide as their only way out. Some were or are being humiliated, mentally and physically tortured, frustrated, and made hopeless. Many have been raped, starved and made to suffer all forms of ill treatment at their employers' hands.

Karima, an Ethiopian maid (registered as an 'unknown' in Al-Razi Hospital), claimed that her madam constantly insulted her, telling her that she smelled like a rotten egg. Others claimed they were beaten, like the severely-battered 25-year-old Filipina maid, Christina, who was allegedly severely beaten and then thrown from a third floor window by her employer. Christiana's harrowing plight has exposed the predicament of a worrying number of domestic workers in Kuwait. Apart from her other broken bones, Christiana reels in pain as she undergoes a series of operations to correct her broken spine.

The situation is not limited to housemaids, as we have seen many expatriates committing suicide in Kuwait. "The truth is that many expatriates in Kuwait live in fear-the fear of losing their jobs (especially during this economic meltdown), the fear of losing their residence and being deported, etc," said Charlie Charles, an administrative official from Kuwait University. "This element of fear causes psychological problems for many expatriates. The fact that losing your job means losing your residency in Kuwait makes it more troublesome.

Sometimes, maids are forced to pay a certain amount of money to get back their passport from their sponsors, even when they decide to go back to their countries. In these cases, the maids are at their employers' mercy. Even the slightest mistake will strip them of the opportunities offered by their hard-earned jobs and residencies.

Karima, who has been in the hospital for more than two months, said she has undergone six surgical operations. She explained how she had run away from her sponsor after her madam's son repeatedly raped her, threatening to kill her if she cried out. "I couldn't take it anymore. I cannot tell my madam and I cannot continue to allow that [rape] anymore, so I had to run away-leaving my bags and all I had worked for," she said.

When asked why she couldn't return to her home country, she said that her madam demanded KD 250 since she didn't complete her contract. "I don't have that kind of money. My monthly salary was KD 40 and she seized the last month's salary because a plate slipped out of my hand and broke. Since I left my madam's house I have been doing some part time cleaning jobs with my friends to sustain myself. I am hoping to go home during the next amnesty period," Karima added.

When asked how she landed up in Al-Razi Hospital, Karima said she tried to flee from their Hawally home when they were informed that police were raiding their apartments. "I jumped from the second floor. My legs were shattered. I was brought here by a good Kuwaiti woman who saw me in my pool of blood. Since then, I have been here, no friends, no father, no sponsor, only God and these sisters [pointing at the nurses] are taking care of me," she wept as she tried to explain further.

Seriously injured Mesina, an Indonesian maid with a spinal injury, said she had leapt from the third floor while trying to flee from her employer. The scars of her injuries can been seen on her face. "There are so many of us [maids] here [in Al-Razi Hospital]. This is our last stop because we can't run anymore. Please try and help us," she pleaded in an emotional voice.

There have been several reviews recently of Kuwait's kafeel system in a bid to curb the excesses of some sponsors, but these have left little or no impact on the lives of these domestic workers who make up a quarter of Kuwait's population. Recent reports shows the total number of domestic workers in the country has risen to about 700,000. The majority of these are Asians, mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India.

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