Hundreds of domestic workers commit suicide in Bahrain every year rather than return to their families in debt, according to rights groups and Western observers.
The workers, mostly women from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, take out huge loans to pay their way to Bahrain, lured by the promise of good jobs and decent wage, according to Gulf News.
But the jobs turn out to be lower quality, and the pay a fraction of what they expected.
Broke and often abused by their employers, they cannot return home and often choose to end their lives.
A report by Human Rights Watch titled “Swept Under the Rug: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Around the World” includes testimonials from hundreds of women from Asia to Africa.
They tell stories of abuse at the hands of employers, working 19-hour days without being fed properly, and enduring rape and other sexual abuse without any legal recourse.
Such reports are especially common in Saudi Arabia, which reportedly arrested, tortured and jailed domestic workers who fought back. Some have been executed.
The Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Philippine embassies handle “thousands” of complaints of this nature every year, according to the report.
In the Philippines, officials called for an investigation into cases of rape and forced prostitution of Filipino domestic workers abroad.
This follows public outcry over a video of a domestic worker named Melissa being raped and tied up by the son of her employers in Saudi Arabia — the second such case in recent weeks.
India is considering requiring a minimum monthly wage of $250 be paid to all Indian maids and domestic workers who take jobs in 18 countries across the Middle East and Asia, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen.
Indian embassies would monitor domestic workers to ensure they receive the minimum wage, and would forbid emigration if the employer doesn’t meet their approval.
In New York, a state assemblyman recently introduced a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” into both legislative chambers to give local domestic workers — mostly Caribbean and Latin American women — a measure of protection.
Such women are entitled to many of the same rights as other workers in the United States, but often don’t report problems for fear of being deported, according to Hardbeat News, a Caribbean diaspora publication.
“Expat blues fuel suicide rate”
Gulf News (Bahrain), August 10, 2007
“Domestic servants suffer abuse: report”
Associated Press, August 6, 2007
“The virtually invisible New Yorkers – Caribbean domestic workers”
Hardbeat News (NY), August 10, 2007
“Abuse of Pinays worries DFA”
Inquirer (Philippines), August 11, 2007
“BD94 wage plan for Indian maids”
Gulf Daily News (Bahrain), August 8, 2007