African Women Sold Into Slavery in Kuwait as Domestic Workers
April V. Taylor
Slavery is not a relic from the past. News stories surface consistently of people being sold into slavery by family members or vigilantes. The latest report of modern day slavery comes from the Guardian, who is reporting that African women from Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Kenya and Ethiopia are all saying that they were duped into being part of a modern day slavery ring after being promised lucrative nursing and hotel jobs in other countries.
One of the countries most of these women wound up is Kuwait, where almost 90 percent of households employee at least one foreign maid. The ratio of one domestic worker to every two Kuwaiti citizens is the highest ratio of domestic workers to citizens in the Middle East. The women report that they paid recruitment agents around $1,500 to secure jobs hat they were told were in nursing or in the hotel industry. Upon their arrival to the new country, the women learned that the work was actually as a domestic worker and that they would be expected to workup to 22 hours a day.
One woman, who worked as a nurse in Sierra Leone, reports, “[The agents] took us to their offices and people would come to look at us. If they said ‘I want this person,’ they took you to their house.” Another woman reports being treated like a slave, being forced to work “24 hours [with] no day off,” never being allowed to leave the house and also being prohibited from using a mobile phone.
Kuwait’s kafala sponsorship system makes it extremely difficult for women to escape enslavement as domestic workers once it has begun because the system prevents domestic workers for being able to leave or change jobs without the permission of their employer. Human rights group Human Rights Watch reports that women’s grievances include wages not being paid, taking house servants passports to prevent them from returning home, and abuse on a physical, sexual, and psychological level. The grievances number over 10,000.