X. Saudi Protection Measures and Gaps

I cannot monitor eight million households. There is not anywhere else in the world like this, our society is addicted to cheap labor and workers are desperate to come here.

—Dr. Ghazi al-Qusaibi, minister of labor, Riyadh, December 3, 2006

The Saudi government has a deeply uneven record in responding to abuse against domestic workers. As discussed above in Chapter IV, below, existing labor and immigration policies fail to provide adequate protection and place domestic workers at risk of abuse. Human Rights Watch found that domestic workers seeking assistance often encounter formidable barriers to timely aid or redress. Although a royal decree abolished slavery and the Ministry of Labor’s anti-trafficking decree penalizes agencies involved in exploitative practices by banning them from recruiting workers, Saudi laws do not criminalize forced labor, trafficking, servitude, or slavery.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights obligations require them to take positive measures to protect domestic workers from abuse, exploitation, and situations of forced labor, slavery, or servitude. It also bears specific responsibility to take preventative and remedial measures against gender-based discrimination and violence experienced by migrant female domestic workers.245

Recent reforms and proposals for changes to the labor and immigration laws suggest Saudi Arabia has begun to acknowledge these problems and to improve its response. The Saudi government has created centers for domestic workers who have left their employment, and who in many cases have no passport or exit visa to return home. These centers provide mechanisms to repatriate domestic workers otherwise stranded in the country and to mediate wage disputes with employers. However, many domestic workers had to accept settlements of wages far below the amount owed them by their employer. Furthermore, influential Saudis are often able to bypass or ignore mechanisms set up to assist domestic workers.246

The criminal justice system imposes other barriers: while some domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch received assistance and support from the Saudi police, others encountered hostility and further abuse. Lengthy criminal trials against employers leave domestic workers trapped in embassy shelters for years with no employment, little family contact, and uncertain trial outcomes. These precedents provide little incentive for domestic workers to register cases of abuse with the police.

Human Rights Watch interviewed several Saudi officials who felt that the reporting of abuse against domestic workers is exaggerated and that the problems faced by Saudi employers ignored. Reflecting the opinions of many of the employers we spoke to, one official said, “there is no institution that protects the employer. What about cases of abuse of children by domestic workers or cases of witchcraft?”247 Another official asked, “Who gives the kafil (sponsor) his rights? He pays 6,000-8,000 riyals (US$1,560-2,080) to accept her, and she runs away after being in KSA for one to two months.”248

Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) Center for Domestic Workers

There were no translators there, I couldn’t talk. Whatever the [employers] said, the [police] wrote it down. The police asked for money for the ticket from me. I had no cash to give them…. The police and Baba thought I had money, they said I was lying….  There was another girl in the camp who knows a little bit of Arabic and Sinhala, so she helped me with translation. I said, “If they don’t pay my salary, just pay my ticket.” I asked to be put in another house, but Baba said “I don’t want her to work in another house”; madam also refused. I will forego my salary, I just need a ticket. There is no one to pay for the ticket.

—Latha P., Sri Lankan domestic worker, MOSA processing center, Riyadh, December 15, 2006

The Saudi government and the embassies of labor-sending countries receive thousands of complaints each year from domestic workers who are stranded in the country or who have not received their full wages. These women often do not have their passport or iqama, as their employer retained their documents; they are unable to obtain the required exit visa, since their employer refuses to consent to them leaving the country; and in many cases, they have no money, either because of unpaid wages or because they remitted all their money to meet expenses at home. In many cases, employers and recruitment agents renege on their contractual obligations to pay for these workers’ return tickets, leaving them in a desperate search of funds for their flights home.

In 1997 the Ministry of Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministries of Labor and Interior, created a center to deal with the high volume of complaints from domestic workers, including those stranded at the airport when their employers failed to pick them up upon arrival.249 The main facility is located in Riyadh and though designed for half as many, typically houses 1,000-1,500 domestic workers.250

The staff at the MOSA shelter, with the support of Saudi police who are deployed to the center from different stations around Riyadh, assist domestic workers by collecting their belongings or identity documents from employers, recovering wages, or facilitating their authorization to leave the country. The MOSA shelter provides much needed services to domestic workers who otherwise have no legal protection or physical shelter on which to rely. Diplomats from labor-sending countries commented that the MOSA shelter has greatly facilitated their ability to deal with domestic workers seeking help to leave the country or secure unpaid wages.

Although the MOSA center provides a useful conduit to assist domestic workers trapped by unreasonable immigration policies, several aspects of its operations raise concern. Domestic workers must often settle for unfair financial settlements and wait for months in the overcrowded shelter with little information about their cases. Some domestic workers reported the police at the MOSA center forced them to return to their employers against their will.

In some cases, MOSA staff fail to screen for physical and sexual abuse and do not provide adequate interpretation when taking statements or informing workers about the status of their cases. Nur A. told Human Rights Watch, “When the employer came to the SSWA [MOSA center], I kept waiting, I didn’t get my four months’ salary. I didn’t say anything about the rape to the police. There was no translator.251 Police or labor officials did not always inquire about the incidence of physical or sexual abuse, and domestic workers, often intimidated by their surroundings, did not always volunteer this information without specific questioning. Gina R., who had been beaten by her agent, said, “The police [at the MOSA center] questioned me how many months I stayed with my employer, but they didn’t ask about my agent. They didn’t ask about my injuries because I was wearing an abaya.”252

As mentioned earlier in the section on “Employment Contracts and Recruitment Practices,” employers should pay for a domestic worker’s ticket home if she was forced to leave her employment early because of mistreatment. In practice this provision is not well-enforced. When employers refuse to pay, domestic workers must find the money themselves, sometimes appealing for funds from relatives at home. In some cases of egregious abuse, the Saudi government, the labor-sending country, or local organizations will donate the money. In other cases, agents provide tickets and resolve cases. 253 But many times, a domestic worker must reach out to friends and family or agree to work for an additional two to three months for a new employer to raise the necessary funds.

Saudi officials criticized the foreign missions of labor-sending countries for failing to aid their nationals. For example, one official said, “the embassies are trying to get away from assisting these women because they want to avoid the financial burden of deporting them. That is why the Ministry of Social Affairs spends so much money in repatriating women.”254 On the other side, embassy officials assert they dip into funds to buy domestic workers’ tickets home and assist with investigations. One labor attaché said, “We have to use our own vehicles to trace sponsor’s homes….  We provided tickets to 97 ladies in the past few weeks alone.” 255 In addition, he complained that they did not receive information about domestic workers referred directly to the MOSA center instead of via the embassy, saying, “They are still keeping all of their records manually and do not send us information.”256 

Despite the shortcomings of the center, it is one of only a few ways to leave the country when a domestic worker’s employer has refused to grant her an exit visa. However, admittance is subject to strict health requirements. According to the administrator of the Riyadh shelter, domestic workers cannot have a cold, fever, other sicknesses, or be pregnant.257 These conditions are presumably imposed to prevent the spread of infection in the overcrowded shelters, and in the case of pregnancy, not to accept cases that may involve violations of Saudi law. Many workers and officials from labor-sending countries complained that workers are rejected even when they are not sick.

Long waiting periods and lack of information

For four months I did not get my salary. I don’t have money for a return ticket to Sri Lanka. I have no money. Not only me, but many people don’t have money. Now I have been here for one month. One person worked in Saudi Arabia for four years with no money, she has been in the Olaya camp [MOSA center] for six months.

—Mary J., Sri Lankan domestic worker, MOSA center, Riyadh, December 7, 2006

Long waiting periods in the MOSA center are common, with a domestic worker’s life suspended for two weeks to eight months.258 An official from the Sri Lankan embassy confirmed that some Sri Lankan women had to wait for longer than one year.259 Women interviewed by Human Rights Watch there were typically desperate to leave the facility immediately and return to their countries, but had to wait for indeterminate amounts of time with little means for contacting their embassies or the Saudi authorities handling their cases. The women have committed no crime but are held in de facto detention. (Embassy officials report that in smaller cities with no access to the MOSA center, for example, ‘Ar’ar in the province of al-Jawf, police keep escaped domestic workers with complaints against their employers in jail until their cases are resolved.260)

According to domestic workers in the MOSA center, “The ones who stay for many months are the ones who don’t have money. Some of the maids have to beg for the money, for the amount of the ticket.261 One diplomat handling labor cases said, “Even the authorities forget how long she has been waiting. It is not a big deal to them, ok, the employer didn’t come, didn’t pay, but we remind them.”262

The long stays at the MOSA center may come at the end of long waits at other locations. For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed Thanuja W. who said, “I was at the agency for five months. Then I was at the embassy for three months. I have been here [at the MOSA center] for two months. I always asked my employers for my salary, after two years of working, they still didn’t pay me, they sent me back to the agent.”263

The indefinite periods of stay in the shelters imposes hardship on domestic workers, particularly since many had experienced trauma, had not received their wages and were desperate to start working again, or were anxious to reunite with their families. Nur A. told us, “I am nervous to go to the SSWA [MOSA shelter], because I know most people who go there spend three or four months there. I am worried if I go to the SSWA I will spend a long time there.”264 Most confronted acute financial pressures and could not afford to spend months without pay.

The MOSA staff do not provide domestic workers in the shelter with adequate information about the shelter or regularly updated information about their situations. In addition, MOSA staff confiscate mobile phones and prevent domestic workers from reaching out to family or making independent calls to consular officials. One detained worker told Human Rights Watch, “One of my friends had a mobile and they took it. I cannot make a telephone call, we can’t call the embassy.”265

With little information about the nature of the MOSA center, their legal status, their rights, and the status of their cases, and with no freedom to leave the locked facilities, many domestic workers believed they were in a women’s prison or detention center. A diplomat from a labor-sending country said, “Many of our girls have complained in our media [upon returning home]. They say the embassy sent us to jail.”266 Human Rights Watch interviewed a returned domestic worker in Sri Lanka, Sepalika S., who had transited through the MOSA center and said,

[T]he police put me in a prison cell where the housemaids who have faced problems stay…. it’s one of their police divisions….  I was locked up … they have rooms for Sri Lankan housemaids, Indonesian housemaids, Filipina, and Nepalese housemaids. They asked me questions like whether I stole anything when I ran away, and they checked my body to see whether I had anything hidden. They asked me why I left that house, whether the Baba is not good, and did I take anything with me when I left.267

Officials from different embassies reported that in early 2008 some domestic workers in the MOSA center grew so frustrated with their long waits and lack of information that they protested, causing minor property damage to the center. The Saudi government imprisoned at least 12 domestic workers for two months for being the leaders of this protest.268

Labor dispute resolution

A major function of the MOSA center is to mediate labor disputes. Since the labor code currently excludes domestic workers, domestic workers do not have clear, enforceable standards on their conditions of work, access to labor courts, or standard complaint mechanisms through the Ministry of Labor.

The availability of police at the MOSA center to track down errant employers, to force them to present themselves to discuss wage disputes, and to pay withheld salaries greatly increases its enforcement capacity.  Human Rights Watch found that the Saudi police were able to help some domestic workers partially or fully resolve their cases. However, we also learned of many cases in which employers refused to come to the MOSA center, and the domestic worker had little choice but to accept her fate and to scramble for money for her ticket home. For example, Indrani P. did not receive her owed wages and had to pay for her ticket home:

Twice the police spoke to my employers. The first day, they said there was no such maid at our house. The second time, no one picked up the phone. In the camp [MOSA center], the person who translated was another housemaid. They asked if I was willing to work in another house, and I refused. They asked if I had cash for a ticket, and I said yes.269

Saudi law provides that in civil cases, domestic workers should receive their payments expeditiously when there are judgments in their favor. Article 199(c) in the second part of the civil procedure code stipulates, “A judgment incorporating a provision for expeditious execution, with or without bond at the discretion of the judge, shall be made in the following circumstances: … (c)If the judgment is for the payment of wages to a servant, craftsman, workman, wet-nurse, or nurse-maid.”270 Domestic workers’ cases rarely reach the courts, but the principle of enforcing timely repayment of wages should be applied to the MOSA center labor dispute resolution mechanism.

The Saudi government has yet to enforce all employers’ compliance and does not consistently pursue employers who simply refuse to respond. For example, Sari L. said, “I don’t know if I’ll get my eight months’ salary…. They called my first employer and we sat together and she said I’ll bring money and she never came again. I have been here for one and-a-half months, the employer is not returning their phone calls anymore.”271

Saudi officials denied the extent of unpaid wages and maintained that their courts often favored migrant workers. One official told Human Rights Watch, “The employer tries to give the salary to the domestic worker, but she refuses to take it. She asks the employer to keep it for safekeeping. Then when she asks for her salary, it is difficult for her employer to provide the full amount at once. When she is not provided her salary, she runs away.”272 An official from the Ministry of Labor said, “in the courts, the burden is on the kafil (sponsor) to provide evidence that he paid the salary.”273

Human Rights Watch documented many cases in which the domestic worker claimed she had not been paid for several months, and the employer either denied the accusation or failed to show up for questioning. Employers also wield great power since, under the kafala system, they control the worker’s ability to transfer to a new employer or obtain an exit visa to return home. This imbalance of power, combined with long waiting periods in the center, the uncertainty of the outcome trying to collect owed wages, and the desperation of many women to return home and be reunited with their families means that final settlements frequently involve domestic workers foregoing their full or partial wages in order to obtain exit visas to leave the country.

According to the Saudi Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, employers who fail to pay wages may be blacklisted from hiring another domestic worker for five years, and, in egregious or repeat cases, for life.274 Employers do not face any other penalty and domestic workers receive no restitution. When asked whether the Saudi government had plans to institute more substantial penalties against delinquent employers, the officials Human Rights Watch spoke to suggested the current sanctions are sufficient.275 Despite several requests, the Saudi government did not provide Human Rights Watch with updated numbers of employers who have been blacklisted.

On occasion, in high-profile and egregious cases, an individual or organization steps in to assist the woman. In late 2007 Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh, donated the equivalent of 12 years of salary to Girlie Malika Fernando, a 53-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker whose employer had not paid her for 13 years and who died before the case was settled.276 Media attention also helped apply pressure in the cases of Reeta Nisanka, a Sri Lankan domestic worker initially paid for only three months out of nine years of work (her employer paid her in full in an “amicable” agreement and received no other punishment), and Anista Marie, a Sri Lankan domestic worker paid for two years out of ten years of work.277 Even in highly publicized cases, there may be little punishment for employers or enforcement of wage settlements. Anista Marie’s employer refused to return her passport and, out of 40,000 riyals ($10,400) owed, only paid 8,500 ($2,210) to Anista Marie before her repatriation, agreeing to send 11,500 riyals ($2,990) to her in Sri Lanka.278 In far too many other cases, the employer gets away with his or her crime completely, and the domestic worker goes home penniless.

The Saudi government has created other checks on the payment of wages, including forms for domestic workers to sign acknowledging monthly receipt of their salaries and asking immigration officials to screen for unpaid wages before a domestic worker’s departure to her home country. However, these measures have yet to be widely implemented.279 Furthermore, domestic workers are generally unaware of these procedures. As one embassy official commented, “The employer has written everything in Arabic, the girl gives her fingerprint, she doesn’t know what it’s for. But she hasn’t gotten her salary.”280 In other cases, domestic workers who may be intimidated by immigration officials, afraid of not getting on their flight, and sometimes instructed by their employers to lie, do not disclose unpaid wages.281


When domestic workers leave their legal immigration sponsors, whether escaping abusive conditions or seeking better work conditions and pay as undocumented workers, they have two main options for returning to their home countries. The first is to seek assistance from government authorities, either their embassy or the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs. The second is to go the “backdoor” route of deportation from Jeddah.

The deportation center in Jeddah was originally set up to help repatriate pilgrims who lost their documents or overstayed their trips in Mecca. As their only resort out of the country, migrants often pay bribes to enter the deportation center. Indonesians, who are primarily Muslim, paid the lowest fees, while Sri Lankans and Filipinos had to assume Muslim names and pay higher bribes to enter the facilities. Though Human Rights Watch did not obtain access to the deportation center, interviews with migrants, embassy officials, and Saudi officials indicate the deportation center is extremely overcrowded with poor living conditions.282 According to a news report, there are 8,000 residents in the center, which has a capacity for 5,500.283

Migrant domestic workers unable to secure exit visas from their sponsors and unable to go through the MOSA center may have no other alternative than to pay a bribe and go to the deportation center to leave the country.284 Those who have left their original employers and have been working as undocumented “freelancers” for several years must typically leave the country through deportation.

According to consular officials in Jeddah, the MOSA center in Riyadh is not open to migrant domestic workers in Jeddah and other western provinces, and these officials struggle to find ways to repatriate domestic workers who have encountered problems with their employers. One consular official told us, “In Riyadh they have the SSWA [MOSA center]. They can endorse the exit visas, they are responsible, but here, no. We are the consulate, giving the call to the employer. There is no reply. There is nowhere to go.”285

In such cases, a domestic worker’s recruitment agent or peers may advise her to raise the money to pay the bribe money to go to the deportation center. For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed one domestic worker in Jeddah whose employer did not authorize her exit visa, and who was weighing her options on how she could return to the Philippines. She said, “Last week my agent …, he said that in my case, Baba doesn’t answer the phone. He said, ‘If you want to go home, go to deportation.’”286 Her agent provided her with a return air ticket. Even domestic workers owed substantial sums of money from their employers may have to resort to this option. Sandra C. told us,

The embassy staff wants to go [to] the house of the employer with a case officer. They owe me 34,000 riyals [$8,840]. Now I want to work for payment so I earn the 500 riyals [$130] for deportation. My mother and father need money, they need me to go home, but my employer didn’t want me to leave….  The embassy tells me that if my employers don’t want to give me my salary, I will have to work one month to earn the deportation fees.287

In Jeddah several domestic workers reported that their embassy informally advised them to return home through the Jeddah deportation center rather than assisting them. For example, Marilou R. said, “I told the case officer that I want to go home. I only need the exit visa. For the ticket, I have friends who will give money….  A case officer told me it is better to go home through deportation. I said, ‘No! I want my salary. I don’t want to go as an illegal, I want to go legally.’”288

In some cases, domestic workers who left their original employers and continued to work in Saudi Arabia independently without full legal status may have children, typically through consensual relations with another migrant worker. These children have no documentation, as their parents must have a valid residency permit for a child to be registered. Both mother and child become effectively trapped in Saudi Arabia as efforts to repatriate or deport them could result in prosecution for adultery. An embassy official said,

We cannot get an exit visa for them because of the issue of immorality. The [Saudi authorities] will put them in jail first….  We have no way to repatriate the child….  The Saudi authorities refuse to concede this problem exists….  There should be an amnesty program for children, and for all the illegals in the country.289

Repatriation of Migrants’ Remains

Why does a dead person need an exit visa?

—Embassy official from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008

The constraints of the kafala system are particularly evident in the bureaucratic challenges and delays that embassies face in repatriating the remains of migrants who die in Saudi Arabia. When consular officials from labor-sending countries are unable to obtain the consent of the sponsor to approve the exit visa, either because the sponsor refuses or because the sponsor could not be identified, they must approach the governor of the province to clear the administrative hurdles. One embassy official told us, “Without the sponsor’s cooperation, it is hard to send the body back … The main problem is the sponsor has to change and authenticate the documents.” 290 

Given the volume of migrants in the country, the embassies must often deal with numerous repatriations per month. One official from a labor-sending country said: “We send home an average of 20 bodies a month. Every month it is a problem, usually because of the sponsor. Illegal stayers or runaways usually have to go to the governor. You can imagine how long the line is. For legal migrants, it typically takes three weeks to one month to repatriate the remains; for an illegal migrant, it could take months.”291

Human Rights Watch interviewed diplomats who have struggled for up to a year to repatriate remains. For example, it took a year to send the body of a Sri Lankan domestic worker whose medical reports suggest she died from malnutrition and tuberculosis, and who was not paid for the entire five years of her employment. The employer was arrested and paid part of the owed wages to her family, but they could not repatriate the body until the financial settlement was cleared.292 In another case, an official from the Indonesian embassy said, “We have a case of a lady who died six months ago….  We could not find the sponsor. We got permission from the governor [of Riyadh to get her exit visa] but the civil registration will not give us a certificate without her passport or iqama.293

At other times, the Saudi authorities handling the case are slow, uncooperative, or demand kickbacks. One embassy official told us, “If the sponsor is not available, then the police can do it. They have been reluctant, when we talk to them, they say ‘inshallah, inshallah’ (God willing). [They expect us] to give some riyals or the ‘whiskey quota’ [diplomats in Saudi Arabia may bring in a quota of alcohol].”294

The Criminal Justice System

I want to go home. To go home, they said I have to drop the charges [against my employer]. I have been sitting here for eight months already. I have been sitting here, with no money and no job. If I return back home, my body has been beaten, I am without money, that is what makes me sad....  If it is my luck, it will be [my employers will get punished and I will get compensation]. Otherwise, I will accept my fate. I told my husband already and he said to let Allah punish my employer.

—Mina S., Indonesian domestic worker whose employer beat her, deprived her of food, and failed to pay any salary, Riyadh, March 12, 2008

Under international human rights law, and specifically flowing from treaties that Saudi Arabia has become a party to, it has a clear legal obligation to ensure that there are effective penalties, including criminal sanctions, both on the books and in practice, for anyone who engages in or is complicit in all forms of forced labor and servitude, and abuse amounting to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.295

Cases of police mistreatment and abuse

Domestic workers reported mixed experiences in obtaining assistance from the police. Some domestic workers received aid and referrals from the police that enabled them to leave abusive employers and then seek assistance at the Ministry of Social Affairs shelter or their embassy. In other cases, however, police officers refused to believe domestic workers’ accounts, forcibly sent them back to their employers, or did not take proper measures to ensure their safety.

Several officials from labor-sending countries said that cooperation with police has improved, for example, in arranging rescues from workplaces where domestic workers are confined. However, this level of cooperation is not consistent and embassy officials may need to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. One official commented, “Sometimes we will get information from a housemaid illegally put in a house. We will talk to the police, but they need a letter from the governor, otherwise [they will not go to the house] they will just call.”296

In other cases, police are negligent in their response to cases of abuse. Ponnamma S. described to Human Rights Watch her experience of approaching the police after escaping from her employers:

A senior officer came. I complained about the marks. I complained that Baba had beaten me up. Baba claimed that he was not there at the time. Then they asked if Baba paid me. I said, “For one-and-a-half years I have not been paid.” I refused to go back to Baba. I insisted to go to the embassy house…. The police told Baba to drop me at the embassy, but he took me back to the house…. The lady beat me really badly. She told me, “Anywhere you go in Saudi Arabia, they’ll return you back here. Even if we kill you, the police won’t say anything to us. If you hadn’t run, we would have killed you and thrown you in the trash.”297

In a few cases, domestic workers reported sexual harassment or sexual assault committed by a police officer. Sri H. told us, “Once I went to the police. I called 999 [emergency number for the police]. What happened is that the police asked me to go out with him and have sex with him.”298  Dian W. had run away from her employer and was trying to get entry to the MOSA center. She told us, “The police officer said, ‘Wait, if you want a letter from the police and the chance to sleep at the shelter, you should sleep with me and tomorrow you can enter the shelter.’”299

When Chemmani R. approached a police officer after escaping from her employer, a police officer took her to an isolated area and raped her.300 When he stopped the car and got out to buy water, she grabbed his driver’s license and ran out. She said, “When I went to the police station, they told me, ‘You are a housemaid, you are from Sri Lanka; he is from this country, he is a wealthy man, you can’t argue with him, it’s better that you go back to your country.’” The police then transferred Chemmani R. to the deportation center with no opportunity to pursue her case. 301

Many of the officials from foreign missions of labor-sending countries who support workers with criminal cases complained about the lack of systems and competence among the Saudi police. For example, if a police officer gets transferred, “They leave no file of the case. The new officer tells you to call the previous police officer.” 302 These officials also cited the need for a special desk in each police station to handle sexual violence cases.

Flawed investigations and protracted criminal proceedings

I haven’t seen any rape case [that] has prospered to the point of conviction. Most cases are never able to be prosecuted.

—Embassy official B, who monitored all criminal cases for a labor-sending country for the past few years, Riyadh, March 8, 2008

In most cases we are settling for financial settlements. The domestic workers cannot withstand the rigors of trial, the long waiting periods, it takes nine months, a year. The court process is very slow.

—Consular official E from a labor-sending country, Jeddah, December 9, 2006

Inadequate investigation and collection of evidence in cases where employers or an agent has abused a domestic worker adversely affects the strength of their case. Human Rights Watch learned of cases where Saudi authorities refused to mandate paternity tests for Saudi men and boys accused of raping domestic workers who bore children as a result. A domestic worker raped by her employer and five months pregnant attempted to file a complaint with the police, but “they refused to register the case and forwarded her to the [MOSA] shelter. [To gain admission] they didn’t write that she was pregnant.”303

In many cases, domestic workers are not able to pursue criminal charges against an abusive employer or agent due to pressure from the Saudi authorities or insufficient evidence. With the assistance of their embassy, they may be able to get an out-of-court financial settlement, but in other cases they go home with nothing. Domestic workers are often only able to escape from their employer’s home several days or weeks after the incident of violence occurred. In such cases, they are required to file a police report before they can undergo a forensic exam for any remaining evidence.304 This requirement presents further delays, especially as they must return to the police of the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. An officer from a labor-sending country dealing with such cases noted, “One of the problems is that the domestic worker does not know where she lives. She is a virtual prisoner, she doesn’t know where to bring us.”305

For those cases that go to trial, domestic workers must endure months or years of waiting for the proceedings to conclude. They typically wait in overcrowded shelters at their embassies, unable to work, unable to leave the embassy grounds, and in limited or no communication with their families at home. Even after such long waits, the outcome may not be in their favor, as in the case of Haima G., profiled in the trafficking section of this report. A lawyer for the Indonesian embassy said approximately 60 percent of cases result in convictions.306

Human Rights Watch interviewed a Sri Lankan domestic worker, Chamali W., who had been raped by her employer’s son. She said,

They examined me and proved that I was raped, but not pregnant. Since then, I haven’t stepped into a court at all….  The police have not given me any more information. I ask every two months. For the last six months, I have been staying here [at the embassy shelter]. I’ve taken a loan of 50,000 rupees [in Sri Lanka] with interest. My husband has no job, my father is sick. My husband’s mother is taking care of my child. I am not able to go back to Sri Lanka because the police case is still going on….  I’m clueless about what people are doing, about whether my employer’s son in jail. I have to go back home and pay my debt. If I left now and worked, I could do something about it…. I have wasted six months.307

If the verdict after a lengthy proceeding does favor the domestic worker, she must then be prepared for another wait if the convicted files an appeal. An officer from a labor-sending country working in Saudi Arabia for several years said, “I recall only one rape case in [the] Eastern Province [in 2007] that was a successful conviction.” However this case was appealed, and the domestic worker could not wait any longer, dropped the case, and went home.308 Several embassy officials recommended that they be able to designate an attorney to represent the woman after the trial so that she can return home while awaiting the final verdict. “She has to stay for at least a year. She will want to go home and the crime goes unpunished. The locals know that time is on their side.”309

Given the lengthy waiting periods and the nature of the Saudi justice system, many officials from foreign missions and their legal advisors pursue financial settlements for abused domestic workers.310 Embassy officials felt they have few options given the restrictive immigration framework, their lack of enforcement power over employers, and domestic workers’ own desires to return home quickly. “What course of action does she want to take, it is her choice, not the embassy’s. If she doesn’t want to file a case, go home and get a financial settlement, we emphasize it is her decision. We are obliged to tell her of our previous experiences. How long it takes, where she will stay – in the women’s center, that she can’t go out or work. They can’t work but need to support their families.”311

245As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, Saudi Arabia has undertaken specific obligations regarding legal and policy protection of women’s rights. For example Article 2 and Article 6 respectively provide that “States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women, ” and “ States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women….”

246 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy officials from labor sending countries, Riyadh, March 11 and 12, and with a health professional working with Saudi families, Riyadh, March 13, 2008.

247 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Farahat, international cooperation advisor, Ministry of Social Affairs, Riyadh, March 9, 2008.

248 Human Rights Watch interview with Fawzi Al-Dahan, general manager, Manpower Planning Department, Ministry of Labor, Riyadh, March 9, 2008.

249 Human Rights Watch interviews with Abdullah Jazi al-Jad, manager, Ministry of Social Affairs center for domestic workers, Riyadh, December 6, 2006, and Adel Farahat, March 9, 2008.

250 Although the main such processing center is located in Riyadh, Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the size and location of other such centers around the country. Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Labor, and labor-sending countries gave widely varying answers, ranging from only one in Riyadh to additional and smaller centers in Dammam, al-Ahsa, and Buraida.

251 Human Rights Watch interview with Nur A., Indonesian domestic worker, Riyadh, December 7, 2006.

252 Human Rights Watch interview with Gina R., Filipina domestic worker, Riyadh, December 7, 2006.

253 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official P from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 3, 2006.

254 Human Rights Watch interview with Fawzi Al-Dahan, March 10, 2008.

255 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official O from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 11, 2008.

256 Ibid.

257 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah Jazi Al-Jad, December 6, 2006.

258 The range of two weeks to eight months comes from Human Rights Watch’s interviews with domestic workers and officials from labor-sending countries. The director of the MOSA center claimed most cases were dealt with in two weeks, but the minister of social affairs told Human Rights Watch, “The average runaway stays three to four months in our institutions,” Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Abd al-Muhsin al-`Akkas, minister of social affairs, Riyadh, December 2, 2006.

259 Human Rights Watch interview with a Sri Lankan embassy official who requested anonymity, Riyadh, March 2008.

260 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official M from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 10, 2008.

261 Human Rights Watch group interview with domestic workers, MOSA center, Riyadh, December 6, 2006.

262 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official J from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 13, 2006.

263 Human Rights Watch interview with Thanuja W., Sri Lankan domestic worker, MOSA center, Riyadh, December 6, 2006.

264 Human Rights Watch interview with Nur A., Indonesian domestic worker, Riyadh, December 7, 2006.

265 Human Rights Watch group interview with domestic workers, MOSA center, Riyadh, December 6, 2006.

266 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official J from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 13, 2006.

267 Human Rights Watch interview with Sepalika S., returned Sri Lankan domestic worker, Katunayake, Sri Lanka, November 9, 2006.

268 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official M from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 10, 2008.

269 Human Rights Watch interview with Indrani P., Sri Lankan domestic worker, Riyadh, December 15, 2006.

270 The Law of Procedure before Shari’ah Courts, Royal Decree No. M/21, 20 Jumada 1  1421 [19 August 2000],

Umm al-Qura No.  3811 – 17,  Jumada II 1421 [15 September 2000], part 2, art. 199c.

271 Human Rights Watch interview with Sari L., Indonesian domestic worker, MOSA center, Riyadh, December 6, 2006.

272 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Farahat, international cooperation advisor, Ministry of Social Affairs, Riyadh, March 9, 2008.

273 Human Rights Watch interview with Fawzi Al-Dahan, March 10, 2008.

274 Decree, Ministry of Labour No. 738/1 dated 16/5/1425h. Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Rashid Al-Suleiman, director for Expatriate Workers’ Care Department, Ministry of Labor, Riyadh, December 13, 2006:  “There is close coordination between the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor. If the employer doesn’t pay wages for the housemaid, they send a letter to us, we put them on the blacklist.”

275 Human Rights Watch interviews with Dr. Ghazi al-Qusaibi, minister of labor, Riyadh, December 3, 2006, and Fawzi Al-Dahan, March 10, 2008.

276 Mohammed Rasooldeen, “Salman Helps Maid Who Was Not Paid for 13 Years Go Home,” Arab News, November 4, 2007.

277 Mohammed Rasooldeen, “Sponsor Pays Maid Nine Years' Back Wages,” Arab News, January 1, 2008.

278 Mohammed Rasooldeen, “Sri Lankan Maid Heads Home After 10 Miserable Years,” Arab News, January 9, 2008.

279 An official from the Ministry of Labour said that employers “sometimes” bring domestic workers to the passport office to verify whether they have received their full wages. Human Rights Watch interview with Fawzi Al-Dahan, March 10, 2008.

280 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official J from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 10, 2008.

281 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Ghazi al-Qusaibi, December 3, 2006: “This is a problem sometimes. They are afraid to say that they don’t get their wages.”

282 “Saudi Arabia: New Video Confirms Torture in Prison,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 27, 2007,

283 Siraj Wahab, “Indian Overstayers Clog Deportation System,” Arab News, June 6, 2007, (accessed June 8, 2007).

284 Human Rights Watch interviews with Marisa G., Filipina domestic worker, Jeddah, December 8, 2006, and consular official F from a labor-sending country, Jeddah, December 10, 2006. See also Joe Avanceña, “‘Backdoor exit,’” The Saudi Gazette, December 1, 2006.

285 Human Rights Watch interview with consular official E from a labor-sending country, Jeddah, December 9, 2006.

286 Human Rights Watch interview with Adelina Y., Filipina domestic worker, Jeddah, December 9, 2006.

287 Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra C., Filipina domestic workers, Jeddah, December 9, 2006.

288 Human Rights Watch interview with Marilou R., Filipina domestic worker, Jeddah, December 10, 2006.

289 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official B from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008.

290 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official K from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 14, 2006.

291 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official L from labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008.

292 Human Rights Watch interview with a Sri Lankan embassy official who requested anonymity and review of medical records, Riyadh, December 2006.

293 Human Rights Watch interview with an Indonesian embassy official who requested anonymity, Riyadh, March 2008.

294 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official D from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 4, 2006.

295 Article 4 ( 1) of the Forced Labour Convention, in force in Saudi Arabia since 1978 provides, “The competent authority shall not impose or permit the imposition of forced or compulsory labour for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations.” Article 1 of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, in force in Saudi Arabia since 1973, states, “Each of the States Parties to this Convention shall take all practicable and necessary legislative and other measures to bring about ... as soon as possible the complete abolition or abandonment of the following institutions and practices  ... [d]ebt bondage, ... [s]erfdom,”  In Siliadin, the European Court of Human Rights held that France’s failure to ensure that slavery and servitude were specifically classified as offences under French criminal law, was a violation of their positive obligation to ensure that both practices were prohibited. Article 4 of the UN Convention Against Torture requires that “[e]ach State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law,” and article 16 provides that “each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…”.

296 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official M from a labor-sending country, March 10, 2008.

297 Human Rights Watch interview with Ponnamma S., Sri Lankan domestic worker, Riyadh, December 14, 2006.

298 Human Rights Watch interview with Sri H., Indonesian domestic worker, Riyadh, December 5, 2006.

299 Human Rights Watch interview with Dian W., Indonesian domestic worker, Riyadh, March 11, 2008.

300 Human Rights Watch interview with Chemmani R., returned domestic worker, Habaraduwa, Sri Lanka, November 14, 2006.

301 Ibid.

302 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official B from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 3, 2006.

303 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official J from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 10, 2008.

304 Human Rights Watch interviews with a physician from a public hospital, Riyadh, March 13, 2008, and embassy official L from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008.

305 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official P from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 3, 2006.

306 Human Rights Watch interview with Nasser Al-Dandani, lawyer, Riyadh, December 4, 2006.

307 Human Rights Watch interview with Chamali W., Sri Lankan domestic worker, Riyadh, December 14, 2006.

308 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official B from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008.

309 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official L from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, March 8, 2008.

310 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy officials from labor-sending countries, Riyadh, March 10 and 11, 2008.

311 Human Rights Watch interview with embassy official B from a labor-sending country, Riyadh, December 3, 2006.