Last week, a horrifying video of an Ethiopian domestic worker falling from what media reports say is the seventh floor of an apartment building in Kuwait went viral. The video appears to have been filmed by the worker’s employer inside the flat with the woman dangling outside the window. The employer tells the woman to come back inside. The panicked woman calls out for her to grab her, but within 12 seconds of the recording starting, the dangling woman loses her grip and falls.
The Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah reported
that the domestic worker is being treated at a hospital for a broken hand, as well as nose and ear bleeding. Al-Seyassah
also reported that the authorities arrested her employer, on Wednesday
, and charged her for failing to assist her worker. The employer contends she tried to help. Another daily, Kuwait Times, reported
on Saturday that members of the Ethiopian embassy visited the worker at the hospital.
This is not the first time a domestic worker – someone hired to clean, cook, and care for a household – attempted a dangerous escape or suicide. The Kuwaiti press often report such stories as “attempted suicides,” as with this recent incident. They don’t usually question whether these were suicide attempts or, rather, attempts to escape. In 2009, Human Rights Watch spoke
to eight women who were reported as having “attempted suicide,” but who said they had really fallen from buildings trying to escape abuse or were pushed by their employers. No one has suggested that the employer in this incident was responsible for such abuse.
I have interviewed hundreds of domestic workers in the Gulf region
. Many said their employers locked them inside, forced them to work excessive hours, and beat them. Some scrambled down or jumped off buildings to escape.
In 2015, Kuwait took
steps to provide migrant domestic workers with labor rights, but it has not reformed the notorious kafala
system, under which migrant workers cannot leave or change their employer without the employer’s permission. As a result, while domestic workers now have rights to a weekly day off, daily limits to their working hours, and overtime compensation – they can still be arrested for “absconding” if they escape from their employers, even abusive ones.
Kuwaiti authorities should investigate the working conditions that lead to all such attempted escapes or suicides and refrain from charging employees with “absconding.” No one should have to resort to climbing out of tall buildings to escape their workplace.