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IV. Women Workers: Forced Confinement, Labor Exploitation, and Sexual Abuse
There are at least one million women from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka working legally in some of the lowest-paying jobs in Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of them are domestic workers in private households. Others are employed as hairdressers, beauticians, seamstresses, and maintenance staff in gender-segregated public and private facilities. Smaller numbers of women from Africa and other Asian countries are also employed in these and other low-status jobs.142 Women and men in private domestic service in Saudi Arabia are not entitled to protections under the kingdoms labor law.143
The testimonial evidence in this chapter demonstrates that women migrants share many of the same complaints as their male counterparts about exploitative labor conditions such as work days that stretch to twelve hours or longer, unpaid salaries, denied benefits, and threats and intimidation from employers. Women migrants told us that employers demanded their passports when they arrived in the kingdom, and in most cases did not provide them with an official residency permit, the only document valid in Saudi Arabia for identification purposes.The evidence also demonstrates that many exploited women workers in Saudi Arabia suffer one gender-specific abuse: forced confinement. They are literally locked in to their workplaces and residences for the full term of their employment, with little or noability to interact with the outside world.144 Women subjected to forced confinement which private employers unilaterally impose and government authorities tolerate are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of their extreme isolation.
In cases that Human Rights Watch documented, these women had no effective means to complain to their embassies or Saudi authorities about contract violations, gross mistreatment, and in some cases sexual abuse and rape, unless they manage to escape. The denial of the right to freedom of movement, combined with oppressive working conditions, leaves many of these migrant women in situations that arguably constitute servitude or forced labor under international law.145
Labor Exploitation and Forced Confinement: Voices of the Victims
Many low-paid women migrants in Saudi Arabia endure abysmal working conditions. Work days of at least twelve hours are typical for many of them. Overtime is at best a privilege that employers bestow, not a legal right. Other frequently mentioned complaints include being obliged to perform tasks not remotely relevant to a job description (such as massage), inadequate food, denial of vacation benefits, and prohibition of telephone contact or any other form of direct communication with family members in their home countries.
Some of the women whom we interviewed also noted that their living conditions afforded little in the way of personal privacy and security. In some cases, women did not have private, locked sleeping quarters. In other cases, women who were locked in at their places of employment around the clock and had no way to exit safely in emergency situations, such as fire, if their employers were not on site.
Pia, a beautician from the Philippines, who was a victim of sexual abuse and labor exploitation in a succession of jobs in Saudi Arabia, emphasized to us how locked and unlocked doors and exterior gates often determined the fate of women workers. For women facing intolerable working conditions or sexual violence at the hands of male employers, locked work places forced them to attempt escape from upper-story windows or balconies, at the risk of serious injury or death. In other cases, a carelessly unlocked gate presented the only opportunity to flee safely from a hellish employment situation. Describing sleeping quarters, Pia pointed out the variety of conditions that increased feelings of personal insecurity for women workers: doors that locked only from the outside, doors without locks, doors with locks but no keys, and rooms without windows.146
Saudi citizens are certainly aware of the mistreatment of women migrant workers, through personal experience or reports that regularly appear in the kingdoms newspapers. One resident of the Eastern Province summarized her own concerns in an article published in a Saudi daily in 2003:
The testimonies that follow, which Human Rights Watch obtained from women migrants workers in 2003, describe labor exploitation, forced confinement, and other abuses.
Rajila, an unmarried Muslim woman from Kerala state in southwestern India, told Human Rights Watch how she and hundreds of other Asian women maintenance workers were subjected to exploitative labor conditions and, when they were not on the job, forced confinement. Rajila accepted a job in Saudi Arabia when she was thirty years old, with a plan to support her widowed mother and five unmarried younger sisters. She left her village without a written contract, on the verbal promise from a local travel agent that she would earn a monthly salary of 600 riyals, about $160, as a cleaner. She paid the agent 35,000 rupees -- about $770 -- for her legal employment visa and other costs, a sum that she borrowed. Rajila said that nine other Indian women joined her on the flight to Saudi Arabia. All of them were recruited to work for the same manpower company in Jeddah that supplied laborers to local hospitals.
Rajila said that a company representative met the women at the airport in Jeddah and took them to a building that was to be their home or prison, as she described it for the next three years. About 300 women were housed in dormitory-style rooms in this building. Most of them were from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and about thirty-five were Indians, she said.
According to Rajila, the women worked twelve-hour shifts at various hospitals, six days a week, with one day off. They were not fed during working hours, and did not have a meal break or coffee breaks. Food brought from their dormitory had to be consumed quickly, when any respite in the schedule permitted. For Rajila, who worked in the emergency room of a maternity hospital, there was no time for rest.
Rajilas promised salary of 600 riyals never materialized. She told us that the women were paid 300 riyals a month, in cash, but it was the exception even to receive this amount. She said that the pay was reduced to 150 or 200 riyals in some months -- with the company explaining that deductions were taken for the cost of their official residency permits -- although the women were never informed of the total fee that was being charged. Rajila worked for the company for three and a half years and told us that she never was permitted a paid or unpaid vacation.
The free housing provided to the workers was excruciatingly confining. Rajila described fourteen women sharing a small room lined with bunk beds, with one toilet in an adjacent room but no sink or shower. The air conditioning worked only occasionally; there were no telephones. When the women returned from work, they were locked in their rooms, with nothing to do except talk to one another, cook, or sleep. There were no kitchen facilities; cooking equipment and food were stashed under the lowest bunks. Once a week the women were escorted to the local market to purchase groceries and other necessities.
There was no place inside the walled compound where the women were permitted to sit or walk outdoors. We were always kept in our rooms they locked the door from the outside, Rajila explained. She said that if someone became ill while inside the room, such as one woman who suffered a severe asthma attack, we had to bang on the door until a watchman came, who wrote down her number and reported it to the office. The harsh conditions took an inevitable toll. Women cried out of depression and sadness, Rajila said, but were forced to camouflage their feelings from company representatives because they would not be sent to work if they appeared emotionally overwrought.
The forced confinement of Rajila and her forty Muslim coworkers left them unable to attend mosques for religious worship. She told us that they were never permitted to leave the building to attend Friday prayers at local mosques. I was very sad and upset about this, she said simply. Rajila added that in her three and a half years in Saudi Arabia she entered a mosque only twice, when company representatives took the Muslim women workers on day trips to Mecca on two occasions.
Rajila left Saudi Arabia on October 10, 2000, taking with her no accumulated salary from three and a half years of uninterrupted work. As pointed out above, her promised salary was cut by half at the outset, and some months she and the other women were not paid even their lower salaries in full. This accumulated back pay was never paid. According to Rajila, on her departure the company only paid her last months salary and a return ticket to India.148
Women migrants more recently returned from Saudi Arabia, who were employed in private homes or small workshops, described similar forced confinement and exploitative working conditions. Edna, a thirty-year-old married woman with two children, returned to the Philippines on December 5, 2003, after working for two years in the Dammam home of a Saudi woman and her three daughters. Edna was not permitted to leave the house, with the exception of once or twice a month when she accompanied her employer to the home of the womans mother, where she was required to do housework for several hours with the Indonesian woman employed there. At other times when family members went out, Edna was left alone in the house with the doors and gates locked. She was never provided with an official residence permit (iqama), which would have enabled her to move freely without the fear of arrest, assuming she had opportunities to leave the house.
During her two-year tenure, Edna told Human Rights Watch that she was completely cut off from her family in the Philippines. She did not know the address of the house where she worked and was told that letters must be sent to the Dammam post office box of her employers sister. The employer also instructed Edna that under no circumstances could she provide the phone number at the house to anyone in the Philippines not even for an emergency. Edna said that she was afraid to defy these orders so for two years her husband and two daughters had no way to contact her directly.149
In Medina, the women employees at an exclusive dress shop were strictly confined. Maya, who sewed custom-tailored dresses and gowns with a team of three other skilled Filipinas, worked there from 1998 until 2001, and returned again in April 2002.
The shop was located on the first floor of a residential building. The Egyptian couple who managed the business for the Saudi owners lived on the second floor with their four children and two Filipina housemaids; the dressmakers had sleeping quarters on the third floor. Maya told Human Rights Watch that she and her colleagues saw virtually nothing of the outside during their tenure. They spent all of their time either working in the shop or confined to their sleeping quarters. Approximately once a month the managers son drove Maya and her colleagues to the supermarket, always in the company of his mother or sister. The women were not permitted to use the telephone or to have their own telephones. In August 2003, the manager of the shop found one of Mayas two cell phones and confiscated it in a fury of anger. Maya said that she hid the other phone, which she purchased surreptiously in the supermarket, inside her CD player.
There was no way for the women to leave the premises freely. The shop was always locked. There were two gates outside one for the customers and the other for the house. and these were always locked too, Maya said. In addition, the women were never provided with official residency permits. They were specifically prohibited from speaking to the Filipina housemaids, and were instructed to exchange only the briefest of pleasantries with women clients and the Saudi sponsor and his wife. Maya, who studied accounting in college for two years, found such restrictions frustrating and insulting but felt powerless to challenge the rules for fear of dismissal.150
These women also worked twelve-hour days and suffered various forms of labor exploitation (see Chapter III for additional information on this case).
Anita, a twenty-seven-year-old domestic worker from the Philippines, was forced to work fifteen hours a day in a large home in Jeddah. She told us that a manpower agency in Manila promised her a job as a cleaner at a monthly salary of $300, and she signed a two-year contract to that effect. When Anita arrived in the kingdom, she said that the counterpart agency there presented her with another contract with a salary of 750 riyals, or $200 that she was forced to sign as a condition for receiving her iqama (residency permit).
According to Anita her female employer was a member of the Saudi royal family. She said that the princess lived with her husband and three younger siblings in a spacious three-story home with two kitchens, two salons, and large bedrooms. Anita was employed there from June 2002 until October 2002, when the princess terminated her contract abruptly.
Anita joined a staff of nine other Filipinas. The women had sleeping quarters on the third floor; three women shared a fully furnished room that included a bathroom. Anita worked every day from ten in the morning until about one hour after midnight, and was primarily responsible for cleaning and washing. The staff was fed only twice a day, at one oclock in the afternoon and at nine in the evening; Anita said that she eventually adapted to not having breakfast. The women workers were not permitted to leave the house.
When the princess became pregnant, she started to pick on me about my work, Anita told us. The princess also changed Anitas duties and assigned her to care for two of the children, nine and twelve years old. She was required to hand-wash all of the childrens clothes and was forbidden to use the washing machine. Anita said that she carried out her new assignments for one month, and during that time she said the princess criticized her whenever the children misbehaved. I would just cry and cry, I was so frustrated, Anita commented. With tension rising, Anita said that the princess summarily dismissed her with these words: I dont like you any more and Im sending you back to the Philippines.
Anita was returned to the recruitment agency in Jeddah that placed her in the job. As a condition for receiving an exit visa and a ticket to the Philippines, the agency required Anita to write and sign a letter stating that she was returning voluntarily and held the agency harmless. She had no recourse to complain about the conditions of her employment or the circumstances of her termination.151
Legal Obligations of the Government of Saudi Arabia
The widely tolerated practice of forced and long-term confinement of women workers including but not limited to domestic workers in private homes is a grave violation of fundamental human rights. No one should be forced to work under conditions where it is forbidden to leave places of employment and residence for months and years at a time. Such arbitrary denial of freedom of movement is abusive in its own right, and also dramatically increases the vulnerability of the victims to economic exploitation, forced labor, intimidation, and sexual violence and harassment. In some cases, forced confinement has resulted in the death or serious injury of women who attempted to escape abusive employment situations, as noted below.152 In other cases, migrant women suffered major financial losses because they were unable to extricate themselves from their employers and seek legal remedy in the kingdom for unpaid salaries and other benefits. In such cases, employers in positions of complete control determined unilaterally when and how to return women to their home countries, bypassing channels of official complaint.
Around-the-clock confinement places women workers in conditions of servitude, a violation of one of the most basic protections in international human rights law.153 Forced confinement by definition also deprives the victims of the basic rights to liberty and security of person, and freedom of movement.154 Isolating any person from contact with the broader society affects other rights as well, including the rights to privacy and freedom of association, and the right to participate in cultural life.155
Additionally, the United Nations working group of experts on the rights of migrant workers has recognized that the employment conditions of domestic workers may be comparable to slavery:
The isolation of domestic workers, most of them women, who are as a rule excluded from national labour laws, is conducive to serious violations of human rights. The conditions of domestic workers often can be comparable to slavery: unduly long working hours, poor remuneration, no access to social security, inadequate food and isolation because they are afraid of the authorities and often do not speak the local language.156
The experts recommended that punitive measures should be taken against employers and those who profit from the use of forced labour and slavery-like practices.
The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights included exploitation of migrant workers as one of the contemporary forms of slavery, noting that women migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to slavery-like exploitation and forced labour. The subcommission found that certain mechanisms of exploitation and forms of abuse affect migrant workers in particular and require special remedial action, including employers confiscation of passports and other documents. of migrant workers. It also cited the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who stated in a 2000 report that one vital form of preventive action for all migrant workers was to ensure that they are not left alone or isolated.157 In 2001, the
United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery recommended that [m]easures should be taken to prohibit and prevent confiscation of passports by making it a criminal offense.158
The forced confinement of women workers violates provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified. This treaty requires state parties to accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.159 The governments tolerance of the forced confinement of women workers perpetuates discrimination against women, which it is legally committed to eliminate. CEDAW obligates the government to legally protect the rights of women on an equal basis with men, and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.160 The treaty also requires states parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise,161 and to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.162
One of the Saudi governments reservations to CEDAW states: In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention. Human Rights Watch is aware of no norm of Islamic law thatlegitimates forced confinement andround-the-clock lockdown of women by their employers. Under the requirements of article 2(f) of CEDAW, the government should promulgate a specific law making it a criminal offense for any employer to hold women employees in forced confinement.
The forced confinement of women workers, who are predominantly from countries in Africa and Asia, mayalso violate Saudi Arabias obligations as a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This international treaty requires the government to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination that prevents the enjoyment of the right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution,163 and the right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State.164 This particular form of racial discrimination is directed specifically at women because of their gender. The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination has noted the importance of recognizing this type of discrimination, and has commented that women may also be further hindered by a lack of access to remedies and complaint mechanisms for racial discrimination because of gender-related impediments, such as gender bias in the legal system and discrimination against women in private spheres of life.165 These factors come strongly into play in Saudi Arabia.
Some countries of origin have developed standard employment contracts for workers in domestic service in Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to secure for them some basic labor rights. For example, a standardized Arabic-English contract for Filipino household workers was widely used in 2001 and 2002, but the testimony from women included in this report indicate that its provisions were routinely violated. This standard contract provided the following legal guarantees:
The Saudi government has legal obligations to ensure that women domestic workers do not face abusive and exploitative labor conditions. The best course is revise the labor law to include domestic workers under its protections. In the absence of this initiative, special legislation or administrative regulations should be implemented that define, protect, and enforce the rights of women domestic workers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has promulgated guidelines for legislation to protect vulnerable workers, including recommendations for domestic worker laws to prevent working conditions from deteriorating into forced labor under international law. As a member of the ILO, Saudi Arabia should take immediate steps to formulate regulations that are in harmony with the ILO recommendations to protect domestic workers. The ILO has advised that such laws and regulations should:
Sexual Abuse and Rape
Forced confinement of low-paid women migrant workers leaves them particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, rape, and the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS from male perpetrators. Women who have been victimized sexually must cope first with their own psychological trauma and possible physical injuries.168 In addition, they must confront the kingdoms prevailing social and religious conservatism, their isolation from the outside world, and the fact that under Saudi law it is illegal to have sexual relations outside of marriage.169 Other realities are unsympathetic Saudi law enforcement officers, and outright gender discrimination in the legal system. These factors make it impossible for victims to report sexual violence to authorities or extremely reluctant to do so.
In separate interviews, four domestic workers from the Philippines who were victims of forced confinement and sexual abuse provided Human Rights Watch with testimony about their experiences. The women ranged in age from twenty-six to thirty-five years old. Three of the victims were married and had two or more children. In all four cases, the perpetrators three of whom were alleged rapists -- were not held legally accountable for their actions and did not face criminal investigation and prosecution.
Fatima, a twenty-six-year-old Muslim woman from Mindanao province in the Philippines, told us that she had a fifth-grade education and was married at fourteen years old in a union that her family arranged. When she traveled to Saudi Arabia in February 2003 on a two-year contract as a domestic worker, she left behind her husband and four children, aged two to nine years old.170
A manpower agency in Manila placed Fatima with a Saudi family in Dammam at a monthly salary of $280. She said that her responsibilities in the house were all around, the English phrase that some Filipinas use to describe a wide variety of domestic chores. Fatimas work day began at 5:30 in the morning and continued until 6:30 p.m., when she was allowed a thirty-minute break. She then worked for another two hours, until nine in the evening. She told us that she was fed one meal a day, typically rice and chicken, and any additional food was her own financial responsibility.
Fatima was not allowed to leave the house. Her male employer demanded her passport when he met her at the airport, and she was never provided with an iqama, the official residence permit that would have allowed her the freedom to move freely without the fear of arrest.
Fatima told Human Rights Watch that her employers said it was haram (forbidden) for her to talk to the familys Indian driver. She relied on the driver to obtain food and other items while respecting the instructions that prohibited any personal contact with him. Her solution was this: I wrote a list and threw it out the window on a stone with the money. The driver figured out that he had to bring it to Filipino shopkeepers who could read my writing. The system worked. The driver tossed the purchases on the roof of the house and Fatima retrieved them.
In addition to her long days of work, Fatima endured the shock and humiliation of three serious incidents of sexual harassment and one beating from her male employer. She told Human Rights Watch that twice he exposed himself to her and offered to pay her if she masturbated him. I refused. I told him that I want money in the right way. I told him I am not a prostitute, but a married woman and a Muslim, she said. After these rejections, he held a knife to my neck and threatened to kill me if I told the madame [his wife]. Fatima provided details about the last and most traumatic incident, on a day etched in her memory: June 8, 2003:
He locked the door to her bedroom before he left the house. Fatima sought shelter in her bathroom and locked the door. I was praying, and crying, and stayed there all night, she said.
He left the house at six the next morning and Fatima had an opportunity to escape about ninety minutes later: The Indians were making repairs on the house and left the gate open. I ran out, not even wearing my shoes. She flagged down a passing taxi, and the driver let her borrow his cell phone. She called Noel, a Filipino worker whom she met in the hospital where she had her mandatory medical exam soon after arriving in the kingdom; Noel gave her his card and phone number in case she ever needed help. He arranged to meet Fatima and bring her to the wife of his own Saudi employer. She was half Saudi and half Australian. She welcomed me and was very nice -- she gave me shoes, a dress, an abaya, and 500 riyals, Fatima recounted. Noel also telephoned the Philippines consulate, and a labor attaché agreed to meet Fatima.
During her interview at the consulate later that day, they told me that my employer was a rich man, and do not fight him. The diplomats sent Fatima to the local police, who were not concerned about her recent assault but with sending her back to the Philippines. According to Fatima, the police telephoned her employer, who told them that she was a prostitute, an allegation she said they disregarded because they believed the account of her escape. She said that it was the police who instructed the employer to purchase her return ticket to Manila and that he delivered the ticket in four hours. Fatima sheltered for one day and two nights at the consulate in Khobar. Two days later, the police returned Fatimas passport and she was taken to the airport, in the company of her employer and a diplomat from the consulate. I told them I was too afraid to go to the airport alone with him, and wanted someone from the police or the embassy, she said.
Back in the Philippines, Fatimas husband was not sympathetic to her situation. She telephoned him from the airport in Manila and explained everything that had happened to her. He did not provide the moral support that Fatima had anticipated: He told me that it was stupid of me to return home, and that he hated me. At the time of her interview with Human Rights Watch, she was still in Manila, pressing a compensation claim against the manpower agency that recruited her. She said that she was unable to speak to her two youngest children because her husband denied her any form of communication with them. Fatima was clearly uncertain about her future but firm in her conviction that she did the right thing. Until now, I cannot forget what happened to me. But I have pride and I was fighting for my dignity as a Filipina, she told us.171
Another married Filipina, thirty-three-year-old Melda, was raped twice by her Saudi employer in 2003. Although she was in Dammam, the same city as Fatima, after the first time that she was raped the police returned her to her employers house and did nothing to protect her from her assailant.
Melda told us that she left two sons, ages nine and ten, in the care of her mother, and arrived in Saudi Arabia on May 1, 2003, for what she expected would be a two-year stint as a domestic worker with a Saudi family. Her monthly salary was $200. The first inauspicious sign was the lack of private sleeping quarters. Melda said that she was instructed to sleep on the living room floor and was provided no mattress, only a blanket and a pillow. She was not permitted to use bathrooms inside the house but was assigned a dirty exterior facility with a toilet that either overflowed or operated with a trickle. It had no shower or bucket for bathing only a faucet on the wall.
Melda said that her work day began at five in the morning, when she had to wake up the couples three children and get them ready for school. Her female employer, Asma, was a teacher who left the house at six in the morning. Melda did not know the profession of Asmas husband Rashid but said that he wore a green uniform when he left for work.
On the morning of June 2, 2003, Melda was cleaning the hallway on the second floor when Rashid walked out of his bedroom, naked. I was frightened. He grabbed me and pushed me down on the floor. I was shouting and crying. He told me that he would kill me if I said anything to his wife, she said. She could not describe the details but told Human Rights Watch that she tried to fight Rashid as he raped her. He finished, she said, shaking, and then went into his room, closed the door, and ignored me. I washed myself, stopped working, and waited for my madame to come home.
Melda was upset and frightened, and watched the locked front gate of the house constantly, waiting for an opportunity to flee. Early one morning, Melda noticed that the gate was unlocked and quickly left. When she was some distance from the house, she asked an Arab driver to take her to the Philippines embassy. Instead, he called the police. When the police arrived, Melda tried to explain her situation to them. Her English was limited, but she said one of the policemen spoke some Tagalog so she was able to communicate with him, using both languages. I was crying, telling him it was not good, that my employer raped me, that I did not want to go back, that I wanted to go to the embassy, she said. Melda had a photocopy of her passport with her, which she showed to the officers.
Despite Meldas obvious distress, the police ignored or did not understand her complaints and drove her back to the house. One of the officers rang the doorbell and Rashid appeared. They forced me out of the car. I was cursing and screaming, saying I hated him, that he was an animal, bad, she said. She watched as the policemen and Rashid spoke outside the house, unable to hear anything that was said.
When Rashids wife returned home and asked Melda why she had not completed certain tasks, Rashid offered an explanation in Arabic. I did not dare say anything, Melda told Human Rights Watch. All I wanted was to go home. She surmised later that Rashid told his wife that she had escaped, and for that reason they decided to send her back to the Philippines.
On June 11, 2003, Rashid raped Melda for the second time. She said that she was cleaning the guest room on the first floor and Rashid entered, locked the door, and pushed her to the floor. He pulled down his pants to his ankles. He grabbed me so strongly that it hurt and I was crying. I was fighting him until I felt no more energy, she said. He raped her and remained in the room with her several hours, until it was almost time for his wife to return home from work, Melda said. She suffered this abuse in silence, with no confidence that the police or anyone else could help her.
On June 25, 2003, Rashid abruptly informed Melda that he was returning her to the Philippines later that day. She told Human Rights Watch that the family driver took her to the airport, with Rashid and his six-year-old son in the car. She had worked for almost two months but did not receive any salary since it was owed as a placement fee to the manpower agency in Manila that deployed her to Saudi Arabia.172
Rosalia, the mother of two children, arrived in Jeddah from the Philippines in May 2003, when she was thirty-five years old. She expected to work as a beautician, her profession for seventeen years, at a monthly salary of 1,200 riyals, about $320. Her employer was a Saudi woman who lived in a five-story building, with a dress shop on the first floor, a beauty salon on the second floor, and living quarters on the floors above. In addition to Rosalia, the woman employed an Indonesian maid, a Filipino driver, two Filipina seamstresses, and another Filipino beautician.
Rosalia said that for the first two months she was paid only 1,000 riyals, and the next month her salary was reduced to 800 riyals. I complained to her about this and she said business was slow, Rosalia told us. The employer also forced Rosalia to do cleaning and laundry in the house, and iron clothes and sew buttons on dresses in the shop. Sometimes at night she was commanded to massage her employer or one of the womens two daughters, in sessions that lasted two hours. Rosalia told us that if she was hungry when she was summoned for a late-night massage, and begged for permission for time to eat, she was always told: No! Now! Rosalia also said that she was never paid overtime and never had a day off.
I was not allowed to leave the house, Rosalia said, which perhaps explained why the employer never gave her an iqama. Every night when her work was completed, she was locked in a room on the third floor that had no windows and no air-conditioning or fan. The door was locked at two in the morning and unlocked at 8:00 a.m.
Because the employer did not permit Rosalia to go out, she had to rely on the Filipino driver to make purchases for her at the market. She bought a small gas stove that she used in her room to make coffee and boil eggs and noodles. Madame did not like the smell of Filipino food and forbid me to cook it, she said. Rosalia then described how the driver sexually abused her when he came to her room to deliver supplies. She said that he raped her once, forced her to masturbate him, and manhandled her numerous times. It was difficult for Rosalia to recount these assaults and she was unable to report them at the time: I could not talk. All I could do was cry, she commented. I always prayed and I cried every night.
Rosalia told us that she begged her employer to buy her a ticket and send her home. She said that she also managed to telephone her mother in the Philippines, who eventually found Migrante International, the migrant rights organization, which sent faxes about Rosalias treatment to the employer and the manpower agency in the Philippines. This outside pressure apparently had an impact, and the employer finally agreed to release Rosalia, but told her that she broke her contract and demanded 2,700 riyals about $720 -- toward airfare and fees owed to the recruiting agency. She did not pay Rosalias salary for her last month of work, which was deducted from the amount the employer said was due and threatened to send Rosalia to jail if she did not pay the balance of the money. Rosalia complied and returned to the Philippines on September 25, 2003.173
Pia, a beautician from the Philippines, endured months of silent suffering in 1994, when she was thirty-one years old, before she managed to extricate herself from her Saudi employer who raped her repeatedly over a five-month period. Pia told us that her employer Karim (not his real name) was an engineer who spoke English and worked in the oil industry.
Karim met Pia when she arrived at the airport and confiscated her passport. She was never given a residency permit (iqama.) Pia worked and lived in the house that Karim shared with his wife and children in Safwa, a city in the Eastern Province. A small beauty salon was on the first floor of the house, along with a bedroom that Pia shared with the familys Indonesian maid. The bedroom door did not have a lock, Pia said, and the maid was always upstairs working from morning to night.
Pia told us that about ten days after she arrived, Karim barged in to the empty beauty salon at noon, when no one was on the first floor, ordered her to spread a towel on the floor and lie down, and raped her. I was terrified. I could not speak or shout, Pia recalled. Two days later, at four in the morning, Karim entered Pias bedroom after the Indonesian housemaid went to the second floor to begin her work and raped her again. This went on for five months, Pia said. I never went out of the house for five months. I never thought of escaping because I did not know Safwa. She said that she was paralyzed with fright because she was afraid that Karim would harm her if she resisted him.
Pia explained that she repeatedly begged Karim to send her back to the Philippines. He told me that he could not let me go because he spent a lot of money to get me, and that I had to pay him back, she said. Pia finally decided to approach his wife, who was a teacher, without disclosing the entire truth: I told her that I wanted to go home because of her husband, because he had a personal interest in me. Pia told us that Karim was furious when he found out what she said to his wife: He called me a liar and said I would regret it because Ill be in jail and never see the light again. Two days later, he forced Pia to write a letter to his wife:
Pia said that Karim insisted that she pay him 5,000 riyals about $1,333to cover her living expenses during her five months in his employ and the return airfare to the Philippines. When she managed to secure this sum, and gave it to Karim, he quickly arranged her departure and drove her to the airport.174 Pia said she was never paid a salary because the beauty salon was not busy; the only money she brought home was accumulated tips from occasional customers.
Legal Obligations of the Government of Saudi Arabia
The government of Saudi Arabia is obligated, as a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to combatgender-based violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. In 1992, the CEDAW Committee adopted a general recommendation addressing states obligations under the treaty and spelling out the steps necessary for an effective remedy to the problem of violence against women.175 It stated that gender-based violence is "a form of discrimination which seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men." The committee noted that states are obliged under CEDAW to take steps to provide the following:
In its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted in December 1993, the United Nations reaffirmed states obligations to act decisively to protect women from violence. The declaration denounces violence against women, including violence in the home, as "a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women." It provides that "states should condemn violence against women . . . [and] exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women." The declaration explicitly states that the obligation of governments applies regardless of "whether those acts [of violence] are perpetuated by the State or by private persons."
When migrant women workers become pregnant as a result of rape, their problems are only compounded. In Saudi Arabia, legal abortions are not permitted in cases of rape and incest.176 If migrant women become pregnant for any reason in Saudi Arabia, they are confronted with the fact that abortions can only be performed legally for specifically defined and documented medical conditions. It is far from clear how pregnant migrant women of limited financial means who are unmarried or without husbands in the kingdom -- can negotiate the bureaucratic process of seeking official approval for abortions without fear of being arrested and losing their jobs.177
The kingdoms official Islamic religious authorities the Committee of Senior Ulema (Islamic law scholars) -- promulgated a directive that permits abortions within very narrow limitations.178 Pregnancies may be terminated within the first forty days to accomplish a legal benefit or to prevent an expected harm, although the ulema provided a list of unacceptable reasons.179 After forty days and up to four months (called the embryo stage), a pregnancy may be aborted if an approved medical committee [at any hospital with a maternity wing] decides that continuation of pregnancy endangers the mothers safety and could possibly lead to her death.180
For women who are over four months pregnant, the ulema ruled that abortion is not allowed unless and until a panel of approved specialists diagnose that continuation of pregnancy will cause the mothers death and all means to eliminate the danger are exhausted to no avail. The ministry of health requires that a if termination of a womans pregnancy is approved under the conditions outlined above, her husband or male guardian must give written signed consent on a special government form.181 There should be a mechanism within the health care system to ensure that women migrant workers facing potentially life-threatening pregnancies are afforded the right to seek hospital approval for termination of their pregnancies. If the requiredconditions are met, according to the evaluation of medical experts, a womans own written consent to the procedureshould be all that is required, particularly if she is living and working in the kingdom alone.
In addition to restrictions on abortion, discriminatory policies, medical costs, and intimidation can drive pregnant migrant women away from health facilities, exposing them to a range of health risks.The ministry of health issued a directive in 2003 that prohibited hospitals from admitting pregnant women who were not accompanied by men willing to acknowledge paternity. If the women were in need of emergency care, the new rules required that they be held in specially designated rooms to prevent their escape.Even before this directive was issued, pregnant migrant women living in the kingdom without husbands avoided hospitals for fear of arrest. A Canadian migrant rights activist in Riyadh told us about the case of a Filipina domestic worker who escaped her employer in her seventh month of pregnancy and took shelter in a safe house. When the woman went into labor, the option of bringing her to a hospital was out of the question, and the activist tried to locate a nurse to coach the delivery over the telephone. Fortunately in this case, the baby was delivered quickly and safely without medical complications.182
The ministrys directive specifies that pregnant women must be accompanied by the biological father, who must supply a photocopy of his Saudi identification card, which is to be placed in the womans medical file, and also sign a document accepting responsibility for the mother and child, Arab News reported. The directive was reportedly designed to address the problem of unmarried women who abandon newborn babies at hospitals. It also stipulates that pregnant women who arrive alone and require emergency medical care presumably including delivery of the baby must be held at the hospital in specially designated rooms to prevent [their] escape, the newspaper stated. If no one comes to claim responsibility for the woman, she is to be transferred to one of the Kingdoms social service providers after the local police have been notified, it added.183
Legal Obligations of the Government of Saudi Arabia
The health ministrys directive has the potential to deter pregnant women, including pregnant migrant women without husbands in the kingdom or biological fathers willing to accept responsibility, from seeking prenatal medical care for fear of loss of liberty or arrest. The consequences are potentially serious for women who are effectively forced to forego maternity care. The lack of medical oversight for pregnant women can directly affect the health of the fetus, and the viability and health of the child after it is born.
The health ministrys directive violates article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified. Article 12 requires states parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health-care services, including those related to family planning.184 It also provides that states parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.185 The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has provided authoritative comments about the meaning of article 12.186 The committee stated:
The health ministrys directive is precisely the sort of barrier that CEDAW obligates states to eliminate. The committee has commented that these barriers include requirements or conditions that prejudice womens access, such as high fees for health-care services, the requirement for preliminary authorization by spouse, parent or hospital authorities, distance from health facilities and the absence of convenient and affordable public transport.188 A policy that puts women at potential risk of unsafe pregnancies effectively denies women the right to safe motherhood.
The committee has also emphasized that states parties should reduce maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood services and prenatal assistance,189 and [r]equire all health services to be consistent with the human rights of women, including the rights to autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, informed consent and choice.190 The prospect of pregnant women locked in specially designed rooms of hospitals to prevent escape violates the right to autonomy and choice that the committee envisions.
If Saudi law enforcement authorities are continuing to arrest and imprison migrant women for illegal pregnancies, this practice should end immediately, as it represents blatant gender discrimination. As a state party to CEDAW, the government is obligated to prevent discrimination against women on the ground of marriage or maternity,191 and ensure that appropriate services are available for pregnant women.192
Escape Attempts and Consequences
Women migrants in Saudi Arabia continue to suffer death and serious injury in attempts to escape from the locked rooms and buildings in which their employers confine them. In cases of women who have died in escape attempts, the underlying reasons for their flight are often not known because, prior to their escape attempts, they had been held in complete isolation and denied contact with family members in their home countries and compatriots in Saudi Arabia. Reports in the Saudi media about migrant women who died in suicidal leaps from buildings may not always be accurate because the women may have been trying to escape, not end their lives.
In Jeddah, the kingdoms second-largest city, an official at King Fahd General Hospital reported in 2002 that two or three foreign women domestic workers were being admitted on a weekly basis with serious fractures that they sustained in escape or suicide attempts from upper stories of their places of employment. Director of social services Talal Al-Nashiri reported that some 80 percent of the women in the care of the hospitals orthopedic unit were Indonesians, with Sri Lankans the next largest group. The jumps from apartment windows or balconies might lead to death or multiple fractures, especially of the spinal cord, legs and skull. In most cases the clothes they improvise as ropes to slide down from the upper story windows snap and thus ends up in a fatal fall, Nashiri was summarized as saying.193 In October 2003, a migrant worker was killed in Mecca while she was trying to escape from her sponsors locked fourth floor apartment, al-Medinah newspaper reported. She reportedly tied up bed sheets but the knots were not strong enough to hold the woman and the baggage she was carrying on her back and she fell several stories onto the sidewalk and died instantly.194
Safe Houses for Migrant Women
Thousands of women migrants manage to escape their employers safely. The Indonesian embassy in Riyadh reported that 3,610 Indonesian domestic workers fled their employers in 2002 and sheltered at an embassy safe house before they were repatriated. Tumpal Martua Hutasuhut, head of consular affairs at the embassy, reported that unpaid salaries prompted 60 percent of the cases, and sexual abuse 5 percent.195
Sri Lankan women migrants by the hundreds have also fled poor working conditions and abusive employers. A BBC correspondent in Colombo reported one case of a domestic worker who was brutalized by her woman employer. "After three months, I asked Madam for my salary and she started to beat me with iron bars and wooden sticks," BBC quoted Kusuma (not her real name) as saying. "Sometimes she would take a hot iron and burn me or heat up a knife and put it on my body." Then, abruptly one day, the employer threatened to take Kusuma to the police station and told her that she would be arrested. This was apparently an effort at intimidation: the employer instead brought Kusuma to the airport and sent her back to Sri Lanka.196
A Canadian expatriate who worked in Riyadh as a volunteer with abused migrant women told us in 2003 that the Sri Lankan embassy safe house in downtown Riyadh was sometimes packed with victims who ran away from their employers: Once there were ten women, another time about seventy. All of them lived in one room that served as a dormitory at night.197 The Sri Lankan ambassador in Riyadh, Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, reported in January 2004 that the embassy was receiving about 150 women domestic workers each month who fled their employers.198 In 2004, the embassys safe house in Riyadh was reportedly sheltering about 100 women, and a similar facility in Jeddah housed eighty women.199 According to the ambassador, Non-payment of salary seems to be a major complaint among the runaway maids. If this is taken care of then 50 to 60 percent of runaway cases will come down.200
Government-Administered Camps for Abused Migrant Women
The U.S. State Department reported in 2003 that the Saudi government was operating three shelters, called Welfare Camps, in the largest cities for abused or trafficked female foreign workers.201 It stated that the police bring runaway domestics to the shelters, and that the women stay there, receiving food and medical care, while law enforcement investigates their cases. According to the State Department, foreign embassies have access to their citizens, and the shelters have resulted in foreign embassies no longer needing to harbor domestics on their compounds.202
Human Rights Watch did not interview women who had spent time in the shelters, but we spoke to others who had, and what we have learned suggests the need for an independent and thorough investigation of conditions in the shelters. The Canadian activist cited above told Human Rights Watch about a migrant worker from Ghana who described being held in prison-like conditions with sixty other women in a small room that had no air conditioning and only a tiny window. This facility which had Saudi women guards -- reportedly lacked proper health services and no social workers. Migrants rights activists were not permitted to visit.203 She also told us about the existence of a huge government-run camp near Riyadh that held migrant women who fled their employers or otherwise lost their jobs.
 There is also an undetermined number of women migrants in Saudi Arabia without legal status, some of them because visas or residency permits have expired and others because they are victims of trafficking networks that operate inside and outside the kingdom.
 See Chapter III for additional information.
 The extent to which women migrants are able to exercise freedom of movement depends largely on the attitudes and practices of their individual employers. For example, Gloria, a domestic worker from the Philippines who worked in a Riyadh household from June 2001 until September 2003, told us that her employers, both of them Saudi physicians, permitted her to leave the house freely and use the services of the family driver. Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 9, 2003.
Most of the women whom we interviewed for this report, however, described conditions of extreme confinement.
 See below in this chapter for legal analysis that supports this conclusion.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 18, 2003. Her full name is on file at Human Rights Watch.
 Wajeha Al-Huwaider, Looking at Expatriate Women with Suspicion Is Not Doing Us Any Good, Arab News, June 20, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Nagarikunnu, Kerala, India, November 28, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 21, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 18, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Naguilan, La Union, Philippines, December 13, 2003.
 See Escape Attempts and Consequences, below in this chapter.
 Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
 Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Article 13(1) of the declaration provides: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
 See articles 12, 20, and 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 Commission on Human Rights, Report of the working group of intergovernmental experts on the human rights of migrants, E/CN.4/1999/80, March 9, 1999.
 Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights,
Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Addendum, Form of Slavery, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/3/Add. 1, May 26, 2000.
 Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Contemporary Forms of Slavery, report of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery on its twenty-sixth session, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2001/30, July 16, 2001.
 Article 15(4).
 Article 2c.
 Article 2(e).
 Article 2(f).
 Article 5(b).
 Article 5(d)(i).
 General Comment No. 25, Adopted March 20, 2000, A/55/18, Annex V.
 Standard Employment Contract for Filipino Household Workers in Saudi Arabia, signed by employee [name withheld by Human Rights Watch] and her Saudi employer [name also withheld], noted and verified on March 26, 2002 with signatures and officials stamps of Philippine consular officials in Saudi Arabia. A copy of this contract is on file at Human Rights Watch.
 International Labor Organization, Labor Legislation Guidelines,
 Migrant girls have also faced sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia. In 2003, the Indonesian migrant rights organization Yayasan Panca Karsa, based in the province of West Nusa Tenggara, provided assistance to a fifteen-year-old domestic worker who returned from Saudi Arabia in poor psychological condition following abuse at the hands of her employer. According to the Jakarta Post, the girl, whose name was withheld, told relatives that her Saudi employer repeatedly attempted to rape her, beat her head against a wall when she refused and was locked in a room and fed just one meal a day for a month. The girl reportedly escaped her employer once but was forcibly returned. After she was repatriated in May 2003, her condition reportedly worsened and she was admitted to a mental hospital in Lombok. Luh Rutu Trisna Wahyuni, Indonesian migrant worker brutalized in Saudi Arabia, Jakarta Post, May 14, 2003.
 A childs first right is to be born in a legitimate marriage. This is his pre-natal right guaranteed in Islam by forbidding and outlawing sexual relationships outside marriage. Excerpt from the written statement of Dr. Mohammed A. Rasheed, Minister of Education and Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on the occasion of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children, New York, May 10, 2002.
 The two youngest children stayed with Fatimas husband. Her oldest son was sent to live with her step-mother, and the second oldest with her grandmother.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 16, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 10, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 16, 2003.
 Pia told us that the Yemeni father of her only child, a son, gave her the money.
 General Recommendation No. 19.
 Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Abortion Policies: A Global Review, U.N. Population Division, www.un.org/esa/population/publications/abortion/profiles.htm (retrieved March 5, 2004).
 See Chapter VI for information about migrant women imprisoned in Riyadh for illegal pregnancies.
 Committee of Senior Ulema, Resolution No. 140, dated 20.6.1407H. The ulema directive is reflected in article 24 of Ministry of Health Resolution No. 218/17/L, Rules of implementation for Regulations of the practice of medicine and dentistry, June 26, 1989, http://annualreview.law.harvard.edu/population/abortion/SAUDIARABIA.abo.htm (retrieved March 5, 2004).
 These include fear of hardship in child upbringing or inability to secure cost of living, education or future [sic] or if the parents decide that they have enough children.
 The ministry of health resolution states that the medical committee is formed by the director of the hospital, and composed of at least three members, one of whom must be a specialist in the illness that prompted recommendation to terminate the pregnancy. This committee shall prepare a report showing the type of confirmed hazard that threatens the mothers health in case of continued pregnancy and this report shall be signed by all committee members and approved by the hospital director.
 Article 24(2)(L), Ministry of Health Resolution No. 218/17/L.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2003.
 Essam al-Ghalib, Must Must Accompany Pregnant Women in Clinics, Arab News, September 30, 2003.
 Article 12(1).
 Article 12(2).
 General Recommendation No. 24, Twentieth session, 1999.
 Ibid, paragraph 14.
 Ibid, paragraph 21.
 Ibid, paragraph 31c.
 Ibid, paragrph 31e.
 Article 11(2).
 Article 12(2).
 Maid in Saudi Arabia: Handle with Care? Arab News, December 18, 2002, citing an article in al-Watan newspaper.
 P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Maid Killed in Bid to Escape, Arab News, October 3, 2003, citing al-Madinah newspaper.
 M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Indonesian NGOs Seek Ban on Maid Export, Arab News, November 1, 2003.
 Frances Harrison, Work is torture for Sri Lanka maids, BBC News, November 24, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2003.
 Mohammed Rasooldeen, Sri Lanka to Sign Deal to Protect Interests of Housemaids, Employers, Arab News, January 22, 2004.
 K.S. Ramkumar, Harassment of Maids Persists, Arab News, March 10, 2004.
 The U.S. State Department did not specify the Saudi cities where these camps have been established.
 Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, June 11, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2003.