Twice I lost consciousness as a result of the beatings. The first time it was raining and there was a leak in the house and I forgot to put a bowl out [to catch the water]. She hit me with a mop. The second time, when I washed the clothes, the color ran and the employer hit me. I said I was sorry and that I would return the cost by deducting it from my salary, but she still hit me. She never sent me to see a doctor or to the hospital. Once I was a hit by a wooden stick and she hit me until the stick broke. When I woke up late, after 5 a.m., the employer would pour hot water on me, like if I woke up at 6 a.m.
Women and girls employed as domestic workers around the world face an appalling array of abuses. This chapter describes the most serious criminal offenses perpetrated against domestic workers. These include physical, psychological and sexual abuse; food deprivation; forced confinement; and trafficking into forced labor. The testimonies that follow demonstrate that domestic workers, whether they are adults or children, working in their own countries or abroad, are at risk of these abuses.
Employers who abuse their domestic workers often enjoy impunity. Many factors militate against domestic workers reporting abuse, including restrictions on their movements and lack of awareness about their rights. Yet governments have by and large failed to take steps to address these barriers, for example by launching campaigns to raise awareness and instituting accessible reporting mechanisms, and actively prosecuting abusive employers. When domestic workers do report criminal abuse, police often dismiss their claims and return them to their employers. The difficulty of gathering evidence of abuses committed in private households poses challenges to effective prosecution.
The government of Singapore has set a positive example by increasing the criminal penalties for abuses against domestic workers in recognition of the vulnerability of their position, and widely publicizing cases to raise greater awareness. While there have been prosecutions for egregious physical abuse, Singapore has yet to prosecute any cases of forced confinement (which is discussed in more detail in Chapter V, below). Gathering evidence of abuse often remains an obstacle, and complementary strategies are generally needed to pursue effective investigations. In other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, domestic workers who have suffered physical or sexual abuse risk being doubly victimized by punitive immigration laws and biased law enforcement officials.
Women and girls employed as domestic workers in private households are often at risk of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. These risks are heightened given their isolation, the imbalance of power between employer and domestic worker, lack of information or ability to seek help, and financial pressures and debts that make them afraid to lose their employment. The risk of abuse may be heightened when domestic workers are confined to the household, and is particularly great for young girls, who are typically even more isolated and dependent on their employers.
My employers used only abusive words. They didnt hit me they would say things like, Why dont you jump out of the window? Rather than thinking about your parents, it would be better if you just committed suicide by jumping out of the window. The wife was really angry and used bad words. She called me a pig, a prostitute, an easy woman.
Almost without exception, the domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch around the world suffered some form of psychological abuse. Verbal abuseharsh insults, threats and belittlementoften accompanies physical abuse and takes place in an overall context of excessive workloads, sleep deprivation, insufficient or poor quality food, and substandard living conditions. This treatment reinforces employers domination and control over domestic workers, making them less likely to resist or seek redress for abusive employment conditions.
Lastri, a fifteen-year-old domestic worker in Indonesia, told us, I did not like my employer because she would shout at me, call me a Tai [shit] and Anjing [dog]. I did not feel comfortable. Why am I being treated this way? I could not stand my employers treatment of me.5 Ani Rukmono, an Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia who was also routinely physically abused, told Human Rights Watch her employer would call her a monkey, a donkey. Sometimes she would say I was stupid, or like a bull.6 Another Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia said her employer would threaten me and called me names. She would say, Im not afraid if I have to kill you.7
Indigenous women working as domestics in Guatemala reported regular insults referring to their ethnicity, such as being called a dirty Indian, and an Indian, a mule, stupid.8 Julia Domingo, a Kiche indigenous woman, was thrown out late at night after a strong disagreement with her boss, who told her youre an Indian, youre useless.9
Typical threats against domestic workers include withholding pay, physical violence, reporting the worker to labor agents, or reporting them to the police or immigration officials. A common threat against migrant women is that they will be sent back home, a terrifying prospect to workers with massive debts or who fear reprisals from their labor agents (issues affecting migrant workers are discussed more extensively in Chapter V, below). Employer abuse, combined with isolation at the workplace, excessive work demands, and financial pressures may contribute to intense anxiety and depression. Human Rights Watch interviewed a domestic worker in Singapore who had attempted suicide after suffering poor working conditions and feeling she had no alternatives for escape. She said,
I was afraid if I ran away, I would be caught by the police. Madam often got angry with me, complained to the [employment] agency, and the agency also got angry with me. The agent asked, What do you want? I said, I want to die, maam, because the people here are cruel, everything I do is wrong, Im always called an idiot and stupid. [It got so bad], I really didnt know what to do, so I drank poison for rats and cockroaches. I lost consciousness, and Madam brought me to the hospital The police told me it was wrong to try suicide. When the incident happened, I had been working exactly seven months. I had earned S$90 [U.S.$53].10
If I did something the employer didnt like, she would grab my hair and hit my head on the wall. She would say things like, I dont pay you to sit and watch TV! You dont wash the dishes well. I pay your mother good money and you dont do anything [to deserve it]. Once I forgot clothes in the washer and they started to smell so she grabbed my head and tried to stick it in the washing machine.
Physical violence against domestic workers ranges from slaps to severe beatings using implements such as shoes, belts, sticks or household implements; knocking heads against walls; and burning skin with irons, among other forms of violence. A survey of only a handful of Indonesian newspapers in 2004 uncovered seven reports of child domestic workers being severely beaten by their employers. In two of these cases the girls died, while another was left paralyzed and blind. Each year the embassies in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore of labor-sending countries receive hundreds of complaints about violent employers. Human Rights Watch interviews with women and girl domestic workers in numerous countries demonstrate the widespread and devastating nature of the violence.
Ani Rukmono, an Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia, recounted her experience of daily violence:
Every day something made [my employer] angry. Every day the woman hit me many times with a wooden stick. Sometimes she slapped me, sometimes she hit me with a hanger or a comb, sometimes when I was cooking, she hit my head with tools. My body got bruises, I became black from my head to my hips. I never saw a doctor. Sometimes I treated the pain myself with a compress, no medicine. When the woman hit me, the man was working, he didnt know. She would say, If I hit you, do not lose consciousness. If you do, I will dig a hole and leave you there so nobody knows.11
Employers or labor agents may inflict physical abuse so severe that it leads to a domestic workers hospitalization or death. For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed Widyaningsih, a twenty-seven-year-old domestic worker, who was hospitalized after returning from employment in Saudi Arabia. She had received surgery on her ears due to injuries caused by repeated beatings on her head, and had several scars on her arms and feet from her employer having beaten her with a cable and other implements.12
Articles about physical abuse and sexual abuse of domestic workers have appeared regularly in newspapers in Asia for several years, with a few cases sparking national and regional attention. In late 2001, a Singaporean employer, Ng Hua Chye, beat his nineteen-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, Muawanatul Chasanah, so severely that her stomach ruptured and she died. An autopsy found evidence of more than two hundred other injuries on her body, a result of whipping, kicks, punches, burns, and scalding.13 Ng Hua Chye was tried and sentenced to eighteen years in prison and caning.14 The Singaporean advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too was formed in response to the Muawanatul Chasanah case. In Malaysia, graphic pictures of the burned and beaten body of nineteen-year-old Indonesian domestic worker Nirmala Bonat were printed in newspapers, sparking an outcry, including an official apology from the Malaysian government. Bonats employer, Yim Pek Ha, allegedly had poured boiling water on her, beat her, and pressed a hot iron on her breasts and back as punishment for mistakes in ironing clothes.15 The case is ongoing, and due to immigration rules, Bonat has been confined to a shelter at the Indonesian embassy for over two years while she awaits its conclusion.
As in Bonats case, employers often use physical violence in response to mistakes, minor accidents, or minor infractions such as cleaning poorly or responding slowly to an order. When fifteen-year-old Putri in Indonesia was unable to remove the dirt trapped between the bathroom tiles, her employer poured a cleanser containing hydrochloric acid on her right hand and arm, resulting in discoloration of the skin, burns, and permanent scarring.16 Najat Z., an eleven-year-old domestic worker in Morocco, told Human Rights Watch, If something broke, like dishes or a glass, they would tell me they would take the money out of my pay and they beat me. They used an electrical cord Both the husband and the wife were mean to me.17 Abena R., a ten-year-old from Ghana who was trafficked into Togo, was badly beaten by her employer for not obeying an order immediately: [M]y boss yelled at me and beat me with a stick, she broke my hand. She didnt take me to the hospital. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) providing shelter to Abena said her hand was paralyzed and might never heal.18
Sometimes employers use violence if a domestic worker demands better working conditions or her pay. A Filipina domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates said, I asked for my salary and she hit me. She slapped me, my nose bled.19
It was hard to work for them because there was not enough food. I got food once a day. If I made a mistake, for example, if we ran out of rice and I forgot to tell the employer, she wouldnt give me food for two days. I often got treatment like that. Sometimes for one, two, three days. Because I was starving, I would steal food from the house. Because of that, the employer hit me badly.
One of the most common forms of mistreatment that serves to reinforce the inferiority of domestic workers status in the household is the withholding of food, or providing poor quality or rotten food. In some cases, as in Ariantis experience above, domestic workers are literally starved, and forced to steal foodand suffer sometimes brutal consequences if discoveredor to rely on the kindness of neighbors and others for basic sustenance. This treatment becomes a form of physical and psychological abuse.
Aisyah Fatah, an Indonesian domestic worker explained that she lost fourteen kilograms, or thirty-one pounds, in her job in a Singaporean household. There was not enough food. For breakfast I had two pieces of bread When I ate one piece of fish, my employer got very angry. At night I was hungry. When the employer went out, sometimes my neighbor would knock on the door and give me rice to eat Because the work is hard, we need to eat.20 This problem is so widespread that Human Rights Watch interviewed several labor agents who keep scales in their office to monitor the weight of domestic workers.
Eleven out of twenty-six Filipina domestic workers interviewed in the United Arab Emirates in March 2006 reported being deprived of adequate nutrition. Rosa Alvarez told us, I dont want to die from starvation and too much work. Breakfast was water and bread, there was no lunch. They would say I can only eat bread. I lost five kilograms [eleven pounds] in three months.21 Another domestic worker told us she had lost eight kilograms, or nearly 18 pounds, since she began working because she was given only rice and bread to eat.22
In Guatemala, indigenous domestic workers who were given different food than they were made to prepare for their employers, or had only left-overs to eat, experienced the treatment as explicitly racist. Sandra Chicop, a seventeen-year-old indigenous girl, explained, To them [ladinos, or non-indigenous Guatemalans], it seems like were different people. You can tell at lunchtime, they dont give us the same food. Theres so much indifference.23 Silvia Leticia Pérez, also indigenous, worked in one job when she was fourteen where she only had ten minutes to eat lunch and dinner during her seventeen-hour workday. Her employers gave her a different class of food, she recalled, and made her eat separately from them. They said to me, go eat there, not here nearby. They treated me poorly because I wear traje [traditional dress].24
In Morocco, Najat Z., eleven, told Human Rights Watch, I ate lentils or loubia [bean stew], and the family ate meat.25 In another case, Shadia A. was forced to work while the family broke the Ramadan fast and was reduced to snatching bits of food from the kitchen when her employer wasnt looking.26 In Indonesia, where government officials consistently defended the idealized notion that young domestic workers are treated as members of the family, girls reported being given food only once a day or stale and left-over food. For example, Vina, who began domestic work when she was thirteen, said her employer would give me food once a day, but if I ate more than that she would shout at me and call me pig. I was hungry, thats why I would take a little more food.27
Food that is insufficient in quantity and quality to meet the nutritional demands of growing bodies can have long-term health consequences for child domestic workers. A 2001 study of child domestic workers in Casablanca, Morocco, found that 75 percent of the girls under fifteen reported physical ailments related to their work.28
When the lady went to drop off the children to the grandmothers house, the man would stay at home he raped me many, many times. Once a day, every day for three months. He hit me a lot because I didnt want to have sex. I dont know what a condom is, but he used some tissues after he raped me.
Isolation in the household, and lack of privacy or of conditions to ensure their personal security, place domestic workers at risk of sexual harassment and assault. The true dimensions of sexual violence against women and girl domestic workers may never be known; under-reporting is likely to be significant due to workers isolation and the deep social stigma attached to sexual assault. Human Rights Watch has collected the testimonies of domestic workers in numerous countries; in most cases, the victims endured sexual violence because they were unable to escape, felt acute financial pressure to remain in their jobs, or were under threat of greater harm if they did report. Workers who did denounce their victimizers were often fired and, in the case of migrant domestic workers, immediately repatriated.
The continuum of sexual violence ranges from propositions, threats of rape, and groping, to repeated rape. Crying and whispering, twenty-year-old Indonesian Dewi Haryanti told us that her Singaporean employer,
asked me to have sex with him Why do domestic workers always have to submit? I never follow his wish. I lie to him. I am afraid that some day he will really force me When his wife is not at home, he approaches me The employers bad behavior is why I want to go home. If it is bad words, I can take it. I prefer being hit or bad words to this.29
Ulfah Samad, who migrated to work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia when she was seventeen, said her male employer would regularly attempt to fondle her when her female employer left the house for weekly medical check-ups. He tried to touch my lips and my butt [another time] he showed his penis to me. I was mad, I yelled, this is not appropriate. I dont like this.30 Samad said that every time her female employer left the house, I locked myself in the bathroom because I was really scared . I didnt know what to do, and I was scared because it was a regular thing.31 This continued for approximately ten months until one day, her employer approached her completely naked. I hid behind a door and tried to secure it with a chair. He was so strong he pushed the door open I was scared. I panicked and I ran and I saw a window without bars. I jumped out of the third storey window.32 Samad broke her leg in the fall and sustained injuries to her back. Linda Gonzalez, a Filipina domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates said, every morning the husband would come into the kitchen, hug me, and kiss me. I informed the agency and the wife, but nothing was done. I was told, Thats the nature of that man.33
Sexual harassment of domestic workers has been characterized as a widespread phenomenon in Latin America.34 An ILO-IPEC study in El Salvador revealed that 15.5 percent of girl domestic workers who had changed employers had left their previous employment because of sexual harassment or abuse, making such abuse the second leading cause for leaving a position.35 In Guatemala, one-third of the adult domestic workers we interviewed had suffered some kind of unwanted sexual approaches and/or demands by men living in or associated with the household, most of them when they were adolescents in their first jobs.
Fatima, a twenty-six-year-old domestic worker from the Philippines, escaped the Saudi Arabian household where she worked after the third and most serious incident of sexual harassment by her male employer. On two occasions before the last and most traumatic incident, the employer had exposed himself and offered to pay her if she masturbated him. When she refused, he held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if she told his wife. Then one day,
I was mopping the floor in the salon. He came in and asked for water. When I gave it to him, he dropped it on the floor and told me to clean it up. Then he took off his thobe and said to me, Take this. It was his penis. He told me, Its good. I want to marry you, I love you, I want to support your children. I said no I left and ran upstairs. He came after me He closed all the doors and punched and beat me. He said, Dont push me to do something bad. 36
Although Fatima managed to escape the house and reported the assault, she was discouraged from pressing charges and was repatriated to the Philippines.
Other domestic workers suffer repeated rape. Dian in Indonesia began working for her cousin when she was thirteen years old. Her salary, one million rupiah (U.S.$111) a year, was paid directly to her mother. Dian told us:
We lived in a very small house. The husband slept in the warung [restaurant] and I slept with the female employer. It happened three months after I started working It was 4 a.m. and I was still sleeping. He came into the room. I was forced to have sex with him. He threatened me. He said he would hit me if I told anyone. He told me that he would throw me out and my mother would get no money. He would come to me three times a week whenever his wife was not home. This happened for three years. I was scared, but I wanted to support my mother.37
Melda, a thirty-three-year-old Filipina working in Saudi Arabia, was raped twice by her male employer. I was frightened. He grabbed me and pushed me down to the floor. I was shouting and crying. He told me that he would kill me if I said anything to his wife, she said describing the first attack. When Melda was finally able to escape and report the assault to the police, they returned her to the house despite her obvious distress. I was crying, telling him it was no good, that my employer raped me, that I did not want to go back, that I wanted to go to the embassy. Shortly after her employer raped her for the second time, he announced that she was going back to the Philippines that very day. She had worked for almost two months but all of her salary was deducted by the manpower agency to pay the placement fee.38
As in Susanti Pramonos case highlighted at the beginning of this section, many migrant domestic workers endure sexual abuse because they need to pay off debt. Others feel the financial pressure to continue earning money for their families back home, and still others are so isolated or physically confined that they have no way of escaping or seeking help. Several other Indonesian women told Human Rights Watch how they had shared Susantis experience of a hostile reaction from the female employer and immediate repatriation to Indonesia upon telling them about harassment and abuse. Some received their wages, others did not.
In some cases, employment agents are the perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment. One Filipina domestic worker reported, the twenty-year-old brother of the sponsor [agent] raped me on the first day. The sponsor watched me when I was taking a bath.39 She escaped to her embassy after one week of enduring more verbal and physical sexual harassment and told us, I am always crying. I cant eat and I cant sleep.40
International human rights law establishes the right to life, security of person, and the right to be free from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.41 In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the United Nations stated that governments have an obligation to prevent, investigate, and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by states or by private persons.42 A states consistent failure to do so amounts to unequal and discriminatory treatment, and constitutes a violation of the states obligation to guarantee women equal protection of the law.43
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) affirms the right of all children to be free from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s), or any other person who has the care of the child.44 The ILOs Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which is discussed more fully in Chapter IV, below, prohibits work that is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.45 The Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation No. 190the authoritative interpretation of the conventionconsiders work that exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse to fall into this category.46
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stipulates that everyone has the right to the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.47 The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protects the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the CRC explicitly guarantees this right to children.48
Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination prohibited under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Because it directly impacts equality in employment, the ILOs Committee of Experts considers that sexual harassment falls within the scope of ILO Convention No. 111 concerning Discrimination in Employment and Occupation. The CEDAW Committee has commented that sexual harassment includes:
unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and sexual demand, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment and promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.49
The CEDAW Committee recommends that governments institute effective complaints procedures and remedies for survivors of gender-based violence. These include:
(i) Effective legal measures, including penal sanctions, civil remedies and compensatory provisions to protect women against all kinds of violence, including, inter alia, violence and abuse in the family, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace;
(ii) Preventive measures, including public information and education programmes to change attitudes concerning the roles and status of men and women; and
(iii) Protective measures including refuges, counseling, rehabilitation and support services for women who are the victims of violence or who are at risk of violence.50
Domestic workers who suffer the kinds of abuses documented in the section above should be able to seek redress in the criminal justice system. The lack of accessible complaint mechanisms, bias within law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and lack of enforcement of existing laws in many countries pose significant barriers to domestic workers ability to secure justice.
A telephone hotline established in Surabaya, Indonesia, by a consortium of NGOs and the local police to receive reports of violence against women and children is an example of a good system that could potentially be a resource for abused domestic workers. Instead, NGO representatives told Human Rights Watch that police rarely conduct follow-up investigations and simply refer callers to the NGOs for services. When we spoke to her in December 2004, the head of the police unit in charge of the hotline did not have any data on complaints, and could not think of any instance of an employer of a domestic worker being prosecuted or convicted of abuse.
Moroccan law contains provisions that could be used to punish child abuse, forced labor, sexual exploitation and trafficking in children, and the Indonesian Child Protection Act and Domestic Violence Law could also be invoked to protect domestic workers and prosecute abusers. In both countries, Human Rights Watch found that these instruments are rarely used to defend domestic workers rights. In Morocco, activists told us that police only investigate complaints of severe abuse, and then are more likely to believe employers than child domestic workers, as are judges in the few cases that reach the courts. Similarly, in Indonesia, the police often fail to investigate or prosecute, and in many cases pressure the parties to settle the dispute in ways that leave the child domestic worker still exposed to retaliation.
Punitive immigration laws may actively discourage migrant domestic workers from seeking redress. Malaysias well-known strict enforcement of its immigration laws, which carry penalties of imprisonment, caning, heavy fines, and indefinite detention, makes women less likely to attempt escape and report abuses; those that do and wish to press charges must pay a prohibitive monthly fee for a special pass allowing them to remain in the countrythough unable to workuntil the case is settled. In Saudi Arabia, foreigners who do not have their government-issued residency permit (iqama) are subject to arrest and deportation.
In response to growing evidence of abuses against migrant domestic workers, the Singaporean government has taken initial steps to reform its laws and policies, including providing education programs for domestic workers and employers, raising public awareness, and prosecutions of abusive employers. In 1998, the criminal code was reformed to increase by 50 percent the penalties for physical assault, sexual abuse and forced confinement when the perpetrator is an employer and the victim a foreign domestic worker. Between 2001 and 2004, twenty-six employers or household members were convicted and sentenced under this provision. Despite this progress, many cases never make it to trial, however, in part due to bias and inappropriate treatment by police. In Singapore, as in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, migrant domestic workers told Human Rights Watch about police discouraging them from pressing charges and even returning them to their employers despite the workers obvious distress.
Embassies of labor-sending countries have an important role to play in responding to migrant workers who have fled their employers. The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesian embassies in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Malaysia, for example, have staff responsible for assisting migrant domestic workers submit labor complaints to the host country, get their passports back from employers and agents, and provide legal and medical treatment if necessary. Some embassies have temporary shelters, and others refer workers to privately-run shelters (see Chapter V, below). Yet embassies often only become aware of abuses if the domestic worker is somehow able to escape.
They would lock me inside the house with the baby. I was not allowed to make phone calls or send letters to my family. I wasnt allowed to say anything or talk to the neighbors, I had to just keep quiet.
In certain cases, the totality of the circumstances in which domestic workers find themselvesforced confinement, restricted communication, abuse, unreasonably high debts and work under threatamount to situations of forced labor.
Under international law, forced labor is work or service extracted by menace of penalty and without consent. Migrant workers and child domestic workers are particularly at risk of becoming trapped in forced labor. In Singapore and Malaysia, Human Rights Watch spoke with migrant domestic workers who felt they had no choice but to endure poor working conditions and at times serious abuses. These women were confined to the workplace, stripped of their passports and work permits, did not receive their full wages, and sometimes faced inflated agency fees for transferring employment (see also Chapter V, below). They were under direct or indirect threat from employers and labor agents of being trafficked into forced prostitution, charged substantial fines if they did not finish their contracts, or being abandoned far from their homes. Adelyn Malana, a twenty-two-year-old Filipina domestic worker in Singapore, told us her employer refused to send her back to her agent or grant her a transfer to another employer. She endured six months of regular beatings and food deprivation before she was able to escape.51 After nine months of working fifteen to twenty hours a day, sleeping on the floor, and daily beatings, eighteen-year-old Indonesian Santi Kartika told her employer in Malaysia that she wanted to return to her agency. She told Human Rights Watch, That is when he threatened to rape me and prostitute me.52
Child domestic workers in Morocco and Indonesia also described situations amounting to forced labor. Salwa L., in Morocco, told us that when she was seventeen, her employer refused to pay her money owed when she wanted to quit after being beaten on the head with a stick, and threatened to bring the police to make her pay the fee the employer had paid to the broker.53 Ira, who was fifteen when she began working as a domestic in Indonesia, said that when she told her employer she wanted to leave, her employer stopped paying her wages:
When I told her that I wanted to stop working, the female employer said, No, [you] cannot leave. Before that she paid me every month and then when I told her that I would leave, she stopped paying me. After that, she made me clean the bathroom two or three times a day, even when it was clean. She watched me clean the bathroom and made me scrub the walls. My hand would get tired and would dry out from being in the water too much.
Ira was forced to work for another six months before she finally left.54
When domestic workers accrue excessively heavy debts with no reasonable way to pay them off, they may find themselves in situations akin to debt bondage. Asian workers wishing to migrate abroad for domestic work are typically charged a recruitment and placement fee that employment agencies deduct from their salary (agency fees are explained in greater detail in Chapter V, below). While this allows workers to migrate for employment without having to pay fees up front, deductions are often 90-100 percent of their salaries over the initial months of a contract, and as a result migrant domestic workers typically work for many months without ever receiving a wage. Amounts vary from country to country, with many Indonesians forced to forego the first six to ten months of their salary, and Sri Lankans and Filipinas typically handing over the first three to six months salary to their labor agents. Additional fees, such as those charged for transferring employerseven in cases where domestic workers have faced considerable abuseand penalties for failing to complete employment contracts, add to the debt. Women and girls who migrate through unlicensed labor agencies are even more likely to accrue debt, as they are often required to pay a substantial initial fee in addition to other charges, which they pay by taking out loans at often usurious rates.
In the case of Luz Padilla, a twenty-four-year-old Filipina working in Singapore, the combination of burdensome initial debt and her employment agents practice of overcharging for transfers meant that her efforts to work off growing debt were futile and she had no foreseeable end to her debt payments. When Padilla transferred employers, she stayed at the employment agency for one month. She was charged S$20 (U.S.$12) per night, and by the end of the month owed S$600 (U.S.$354)over one months salary. She transferred once after that, but when she left the third employer after he forced her to clean two houses regularly, she ran away to a shelter. If I go again to my agency, they will charge me S$20 again. More debts. I work so hard, and then the salary goes to the agency I have bad luck with employers, I try again and again. My debts are growing. My two years will be useless!55
International law proscribes forced labor and practices and institutions similar to slavery, such as debt bondage. The UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the ILOs Convention No. 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (Forced Labour Convention), and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (Supplemental Slavery Convention) are the principal sources of international law that define and prohibit these practices.
The Forced Labour Convention defines forced or compulsory labor as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.56 Menace of any penalty has been interpreted by the ILO to include: physical violence against a worker or close associates, physical confinement, financial penalties, denunciation to the authorities (police, immigration) and deportation, dismissal from current employment, exclusion from future employment, and denial of rights and privileges. Examples of involuntary nature of work include physical confinement in the work location, psychological compulsion (order to work backed up by a credible threat of a penalty), induced indebtedness (by falsification of accounts, inflated prices, excessive interest charges, etc.), deception about types and terms of work, withholding and non-payment of wages, and retention of identity documents or other valuable personal possessions.57
Forced labor is proscribed under national law in most countries. A notable exception is Saudi Arabia, despite the ILOs repeated urgings that the Kingdom adopt a specific law making forced labor a criminal offense in keeping with its obligations under the Forced Labour Convention. Even where national laws do exist, Human Rights Watch has found that these are rarely enforced in cases involving domestic workers. Instead, labor officials receiving complaints tend to focus on one aspect, such as recovering unpaid wages, rather than examining the whole range of abuses suffered which, in their totality, may give rise to a case of forced labor.
Effective use of national laws can provide redress. Courts in the United States, for example, have convicted employers under the statute prohibiting involuntary servitude. In one case examined by Human Rights Watch, a Sri Lankan domestic worker won her case against her Kuwaiti employer in Boston for involuntary servitude. V.G. had been forced to work fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, denied medical treatment and adequate food, physically assaulted twice, and threatened almost on a daily basis with deportation, death or serious harm. The court found that V.G. was not permitted to use the telephone or the mails, speak with anyone other than the Alzankis [her employers], nor even to venture onto the balcony or look out the apartment windows. Appellant told [V.G.] that the American police, as well as the neighbors, would shoot undocumented aliens [illegal immigrants] who ventured out alone.58
The U.N. Supplementary Slavery Convention defines debt bondage as the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his/her personal service or those of a person under his/her control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.59
Governments have a positive obligation to abolish practices that may give rise to debt bondage. In recognition of the dangers of induced indebtedness of migrant domestic workers, the Philippines and Hong Kong require employers to pay round-trip airfare and most expenses associated with recruitment and placement.
In Singapore, however, minimally regulated competition among labor agencies has allowed them to shift the majority of recruitment and placement costs to domestic workers in order to lower costs for employers and boost their own profits.
The system of salary deductions common to the process of recruitment and placement of migrant domestic workers gives rise to further exploitation. Salary deductions of 90-100 percent over a period of months, as described above, place migrant domestic workers in a highly vulnerable position. Regulations in Hong Kong stipulate that no more than 10 percent of a migrant workers monthly salary can be deducted to pay off recruitment fees. While Singapores Employment Act limits salary deductions to 25 percent of the salary due per payment period, domestic workers are excluded from this protection.
There was a woman who came to the market to buy charcoal. She found me and told my mother about a woman in Lomé who was looking for a girl like me to stay with her and do domestic work. She came to my mother and my mother gave me away. The woman gave my mother some money, but I dont know how much.
Women and girls recruited into domestic work may become victims of trafficking in persons. In its research on migrant domestic workers in various countries, Human Rights Watch met numerous women and children who had become victims of trafficking into forced labor. Trafficking includes all acts related to the recruitment, transport, transfer, sale or purchase of human beings by force, fraud, deceit, or other coercive tactics for the purpose of placing them into conditions of forced labor or practices similar to slavery, in which labor is extracted through physical or non-physical means of coercion, including blackmail, fraud, deceit, isolation, threat or use of physical force, or psychological pressure.60 Migration and trafficking are interlinked, as traffickers often exploit the processes by which individuals migrate for economic reasons. Through corrupt government officials, unscrupulous labor agents, and poor enforcement of the law, economic migrants may be deceived or coerced into situations of forced labor or slavery-like practices.
Asian trafficking victims working in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia typically suffer severe forms of the workplace abuses described throughout this report. They are forced to work eighteen to twenty hours a day, locked in their workplaces from the outside, prevented from making phone calls, and never paid any wages. They often confront daily violence, endure poor living conditions and receive inadequate amounts of food. Employers and labor agents use threats and violence to keep them trapped in these situations.
In Malaysia, Human Rights Watch interviewed nine women and girls who had been trafficked into forced labor. Some had been promised jobs in domestic work but ended up working in restaurants, retail stores or on food stalls without any payment of wages; others ended up as domestic workers, again without payment of wages, although they had been assured other types of employment. For example, Riena Sarinem was promised a job taking care of an elderly person, but upon arrival in Malaysia, was additionally forced to work in a shop and to clean a second house. She began her work at 4:30 a.m and finished between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. She said:
There was no time off. I was never allowed to use the phone or write a letter . They never allowed me to walk out of the house. For the family, the principle was that I work and work and work and dont have time to rest.... I tried to kill myself, because I couldnt stand my employer. When that happened .the agent asked whether I wanted to continue working or go back to Indonesia. I said Indonesia. The agent said if you go back, you get no money. The agent said he would send me home but when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, he said that immigration would only let me leave Malaysia on March 19, 2004. Now I know that is actually the expiration date for the visa, not [a government requirement, but I didnt know that then. In the meantime, my employer made me work temporary jobs] .. They would pay me, but the agent took the money . I never got a salary in all fourteen months.61
In research on trafficking of Togolese girls into domestic and market work, Human Rights Watch interviewed forty-one girls trafficked when they were between the ages of three and seventeen. Thirteen had been trafficked internally, while the rest were trafficked across borders to Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger. All of the girls Human Rights Watch interviewed were from poor agricultural backgrounds with little or no formal schooling whose parents handed them over to known or unknown intermediaries, sometimes for a price, with the understanding they would be receiving formal education, professional training or paid work. Instead, the girls descriptions of being recruited, transported, received and exploited revealed a pattern of abuse resembling child slavery. Almost none received any remuneration for her work.
Assoupi H., a sixteen-year-old Togolese domestic worker, was trafficked when she was only three years old. Her employer, she said, told my mother she would put me in school, but she gave birth to twins and told me I had to help her look after the children until they were old enough for school. I was only three years old, but I carried her babies and held them for her. By the time her children reached school age, Assoupis employer was pregnant with twins again. She asked me to take care of them, too, Assoupi recalled. I had to fetch water for the house, sweep, wash the dishes and wash clothes. I would bathe the children, cook for them and wash their clothes. When they were young, they cried a lot.62
Kafui A. was eleven when her mother sent her to Lomé to work as a domestic servant. I didnt want to go, she told HRW. I knew that when people brought children there, they mistreated them. My mother told me I would be going to stay with a relative and she would not mistreat me.63 In reality, Kafui was kicked and beaten regularly by her employers son, and on at least one occasion her employer beat her and threatened to beat her to death.64
International law prohibits trafficking in persons. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol) defines trafficking as:
the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.65
Where a child is involved, trafficking can exist in the absence of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception.66 Child trafficking is prohibited not only under the Trafficking Protocol, but also the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. The CRC obligates states parties to take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.67 The ILO considers a child to be trafficked into domestic labor when she is obliged to leave her home village to go to the city to find work and who is recruited into domestic service where the conditions are exploitative (for example, the child is paid in food and lodging rather than receiving a wage). The ILO explains that even if the relocation element of trafficking is voluntary, if the domestic service is exploitative and satisfies any of the criteria for the worst forms of child labor, then the child is considered to be trafficked and the employers are traffickers under international law.68
The Supplementary Slavery Convention defines as a practice similar to slavery any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of eighteen years, is delivered by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour.69
In the countries surveyed in this report, government efforts to combat trafficking, where they exist, have largely focused on trafficking into sex work. In Malaysia, for example, the National Human Rights Commission has thus far done little to identify or provide remedies to women and girls trafficked into other forms of forced labor. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia has specific, comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation. As noted below, Indonesias time-bound programs in cooperation with the ILO address children trafficked for prostitution but not domestic work.
Addressing the role of employment agencies and informal recruitment is key to preventing trafficking into domestic work. As of January 2006, the Moroccan government was still in the process of finalizing a ten-year National Plan of Action on Childhood that will reportedly address the role of brokers in trafficking of child domestics. In Asia, some governments have made bilateral agreements to implement standard employment contracts and to outline recruitment procedures. However, despite the large flows of migrants from Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka to countries elsewhere in Asia and in the Middle East, there has been little attempt by regional bodies to create minimum regional standards.
Togo adopted a specific law criminalizing child trafficking in July 2005. Prior to this law, Togo relied on related offenses such as unauthorized migration of children, forced labor, fraudulent entry into national territory, and kidnapping. Despite evidence that trafficking of girls into domestic and market labor within and from Togo is a serious problem, efforts to date to prosecute child traffickers under prior legislation have been minimal. In 2001, for example, ten traffickers were arrested or detained, only to be released in most cases for lack of evidence. Under the new law, traffickers face up to five years in prison and fines ranging from 500,000 to 10 million CFAs (U.S.$1,000-20,000). If the child is subject to violence, disappears or dies, the prison sentence is doubled to ten years. Togos reintegration and rehabilitation efforts rely exclusively on cooperation with local NGOs and fall short of international standards for return and reintegration of trafficked children.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Lastri, child domestic worker, age fifteen, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, December 2, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ani Rukmono, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-two, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Tita Sari, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-four, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with domestic workers, Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 2000.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Julia Domingo, Guatemalan domestic worker, age twenty-one, Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 4, 2000.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muriyana Suharti, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-two, Singapore, March 8, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ani Rukmono, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-two, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Widyaningsih, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-seven, Jakarta, Indonesia, May 19, 2006.
 18 ½ years, Caning for Man who Abused Maid, The Straits Times, July 20, 2002.
 This is the punishment for breaking a teacup, The New Straits Times, May 20, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Putri, child domestic worker, age fifteen, Pamulang, Indonesia, December 18, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Najat Z., child domestic worker, age eleven, Marrakech, Morocco, May 20, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abena R., trafficked child domestic worker, age ten, Lomé, Togo, May 17, 2002.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Ramos, Filipina domestic worker, age thirty-eight, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), February 27, 2006.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aisyah Fatah, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-one, Singapore, March 4, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Rosa Alvarez, Filipina domestic worker, age twenty-four, Dubai, UAE, May 19, 2006.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Ramos, Filipina domestic worker, age thirty-eight, Dubai, UAE, May 19, 2006.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Chicop, Guatemalan domestic worker, age seventeen, Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala, June 18, 2000.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Silvia Leticia Pérez, child domestic worker, age fourteen at time of employment, Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala, June 18, 2000.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Najat Z, child domestic worker, age eleven, Marrakech, Morocco, May 20, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shadia A., child domestic worker, age fifteen at time of employment, Casablanca, Morocco, May 27, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Vina, child domestic worker, age thirteen at time of employment, Medan, Indonesia, December 15, 2004.
 Royame du Maroc haute Commissariate au Plan, Direction Régionale du Grand Casablanca, Etude sur les filles-domestique âgées de moins de 18 ans dans la Wilaya de Casablanca (Kingdom of Morocco, High Commission, Regional Office for Greater Casablanca, Study of Girl Domestics Under Eighteen Years of Age in Casablanca Province), (Rabat: UNFPA and UNICEF), 2001, p. 58.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Dewi Haryanti, Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty, Singapore, February 27, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ulfah Samad, Indonesian domestic worker, age nineteen, Jakarta, Indonesia, May 19, 2006.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Linda Gonzalez, Filipina domestic worker, age twenty-three, Dubai, UAE, February 27, 2006.
 Gaby Ore-Aguilar, Sexual Harassment and Human Rights in Latin America, in Adrien K. wing, ed., Global Critical Race Feminism. An International Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2000), p. 368.
 Oscar Godoy, El Salvador. Trabajo infantil doméstico: Una evaluación rápida (Geneva: ILO-IPEC, 2002), p. 24. The leading cause for leaving a position was unjust or insufficient pay.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fatima, Filipina domestic worker, age twenty-six, Quezon City, Philippines, December 16, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Dian, child domestic worker, age thirteen at time of employment, Medan, Indonesia, December 14, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Melda, Filipina domestic worker, age thirty-three, Quezon City, Philippines, December 10, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Reyes, Filipina domestic worker, age nineteen, Dubai, UAE, February 27, 2006.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810, art. 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976), art. 6; Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (entered into force September 2, 1990), art. 6 (right to life); UDHR, art. 5, ICCPR, art. 6; CRC, art. 37 (right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment).
 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, G.A.Res. 48/104, 48 U.N. GAOR Supp (No. 49) at 217, U.N. Doc A/48/49 (1993), art. 4.
 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (entered into force September 3, 1981), art. 15; and ICCPR, art. 26. See also, Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), General Recommendation 19, Violence against Women (Eleventh Session, 1992), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 84 (1994) (Contained in document A/47/38), para 6.
 CRC, art. 19(1).
 ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention), adopted June 17, 1999, 38 I.L.M. 1207 (entered into force November 19, 2000), art. 3(d).
 ILO Recommendation concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, ILO No. R190, June 17, 1999, art. 3.
 UDHR, arts. 22 and 25(1).
 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force January 3, 1976), art. 12(1); and CRC, art. 24.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 19, paras. 17-18.
 Ibid, para. 24(t)(i-iii).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Adelyn Malana, Filipina domestic worker, age twenty-two, Singapore, February 21, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Santi Kartika, age eighteen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 19, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Salwa L, Moroccan domestic worker, age nineteen, Casablanca, Morocco, May 27, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ira, child domestic worker, age fifteen at time of employment, Bekasi, Indonesia, December 18, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Luz Padilla, Filipina domestic worker, age twenty-four, Singapore, February 24, 2005.
 ILO Convention No. 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (Forced Labour Convention), adopted June 28, 1930, 39 U.N.T.S. 55, (entered into force May 1, 1932), art. 2(1).
 ILO, A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2005, International Labour Conference, 93rd Session, 2005, [online] http://www.ilo.org/dyn/declaris/DECLARATIONWEB.DOWNLOAD_BLOB?Var_DocumentID=5059 (retrieved June 4, 2005), p. 6.
 U.S. v. Alzanki, 54 F.3d (1st Circ. 1995) at 999. If V.G. had gone out alone, she would not have been able to prove she had a legal work permit because her employer had confiscated her passport.
 U.N. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, adopted September 7, 1956, 226 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force April 30, 1957), art. 1.
 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol), adopted November 15, 2000, G.A. Res. 55/25 (entered into force December 25, 2003).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Riena Sarinem, Indonesian domestic worker, age thirty, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Assoupi H., child trafficking victim, age sixteen, Lomé, Togo, May 15, 2002.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Kafui A., child trafficking victim, age thirteen, Lomé, Togo, May 15, 2002.
 Trafficking Protocol, art. 3.
 Trafficking Protocol, art. 3(c).
 CRC, art. 35.
 ILO-IPEC, Helping Hands or Shackled Lives: Understanding Child Domestic Labour and Responses to it (Geneva: ILO, 2004), p. 12.
 U.N. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, art. 1(d).