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Judicial CP - April 2007

Corpun file 19041


Gulf News, Dubai, UAE, 5 April 2007

Runaway maids face jail and flogging

By Mariam Al Hakeem

Riyadh: A court in Hail, about 700km north of Riyadh, sentenced two runaway Sri Lankan maids to jail and flogging, the Jeddah-based Okaz Arabic newspaper reported yesterday.

Each of the maids received 45-day jail term and 70 lashes while two males of the same nationality, who were accused of attempting to assist the maids to get to Jeddah, got three months in prison and 200 lashes each.

Last month Saudi Arabia announced that it would issue new rules to regulate the relation between employers and their housemaids. The new regulation, no date was given for its release, is expected to govern employment of the large number of foreign housemaids in Saudi Arabia.

Most of the maids working in the kingdom are from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but there are maids from a number of other countries such as Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Law loopholes

Disputes arise on a regular basis between foreign housemaids and their Saudi employers due to the lack of clear rules regulating the rights and duties of each party.

The Saudi Labour Law does not cover all areas regarding domestic workers, especially housemaids.

Official figures indicate that about 20,000 housemaids arrive in the kingdom every month on employment visas. Two million of the seven million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are domestic helpers that include housemaids.

According to reports in local newspapers, housemaids often abscond, running away from their employers to work with others or seek refuge in their respective embassies. Thousands of such cases are reported every year.

There have even been reports of suicides among housemaids in the past few years, according to some local newspapers.

The reasons generally given for maids resorting to suicide were homesickness and unfair treatment from their employers.

They reportedly run away from their employers for a variety of reasons, including non-payment of wages, harassment and maltreatment by family members.

While the authorities are trying to put an end to the increasing number of runaway maids, a parallel black market for housemaids started to boom particularly in big cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Illegal employment

Observers believe that the measures adopted by the Ministry of Labour on tightening visa issuance is one of the causes of the black market.

The Saudi Ministry of Labour, to curb this phenomenon, put advertisements in local newspapers, warning the public against employing or giving shelter to runaway housemaids.

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