Back home, tortured and abused  

Shamsul Huq Zahid     | Published: June 24, 2018 22:09:44


What do you call it--- ignorance or desperation?

The question relates to the outflow of female Bangladesh workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the return of a good number of them from that country because of workplace abuse and torture.

News about the return of Bangladeshi women workers, who generally work as domestic helps, from their workplaces in the Gulf countries, including the KSA, has been making screaming headlines for the past few months.

The media reports highlighted how badly they were treated by their employers. They were allegedly tortured and, in some cases, sexually abused. Even some employers refused to pay their wages.

Over 1,000 women workers who faced inhuman torture at their workplaces in the KSA returned home during the past six months, according to media reports.

Another 120 women were, reportedly, staying at the safe home of the Bangladesh Embassy in that country and 40 more at the Saudi immigration.

However, the negative media reports, surprisingly, have had no impact on the outflow of female Bangladeshi workers to the KSA. The statistics do say it all.

According to the data available with the bureau of manpower, employment and training (BMET), nearly 40,000 female workers went to the KSA during the first five months of 2018. The outflow was less during the same period of last year.

Despite the allegations of torture and abuse by the employers, the ministry concerned in Bangladesh has, reportedly, no plan to stop or reduce the recruitment of domestic helps for the KSA.

Such attitude might appear rather surprising to many. But the people at the manpower ministry allege that problem arises when women workers want to return home due to their 'home-sickness'.

This diagnosis may be partially right. But there are some other reasons. 

The problem might be arising out of the deficiencies in the recruitment process. There is an arrangement for providing 30 days' training to the outbound female workers.

The Bangladeshi women workers going to the KSA are mostly poor and uneducated. The training imparted to these women prior to sending them to their workplaces in KSA is highly inadequate.

They cannot communicate with the members of the Saudi families properly since they cannot speak in Arabic. Nor are they familiar with the culture and lifestyle of the Arab people. In such a situation, the domestic helps remain vulnerable to abuse by the employing Saudi families.

Bangladeshi women workers are not the only ones facing torture and abuse in the KSA. Allegations of similar nature have surfaced in the case of Indonesian and Filipino female workers.

However, authorities in these countries are now sending a limited number of workers. They are sending female workers after proper training so that the latter do not face troubles at their workplaces.

Bangladesh should also look into the problem seriously. Authorities here do need to understand the reasons for the poor female workers to take up jobs of domestic helps in distant lands. It is nothing but poverty is forcing them to venture into an unknown country and face all the ordeals.

There are other aspects of migration of women workers. If a male worker faces torture at his workplace abroad and returns home, members of his family and other people around are found to be sympathetic towards him. They try to pull him out of the trauma and help him start life anew.

But the situation, in most cases, remains altogether different in the case of women returnees. Neighbours and even her own family members point an accusing finger at her and raise questions about her moral character. There are instances where families refused to accept female workers who returned home to escape torture and abuse by their employers. 

It would, however, be unfair to accuse all the employers. Quite a large number of female workers are still working in that country and sending money back home regularly.

But the fact remains that a good number of Bangladeshi female workers have returned home in the face of alleged physical torture and abuse of all sorts. The authorities concerned should not overlook their plight. They do need to take measures to stop recurrence of similar incidents.

The KSA---the largest manpower market for Bangladesh--- had stopped recruiting manpower from Bangladesh for many years since 2010. After much persuasion, only recently it resumed recruitment of Bangladeshi workers. But recruitment has largely remained confined to housemaids. 

The issues concerning maltreatment to Bangladeshi housemaids were discussed in Riyadh during a meeting of the Joint Technical Committee between Bangladesh officials and the deputy labour minister of the KSA in March last. The Saudi minister assured the Bangladesh delegation of taking necessary measures to address the same. The two sides agreed to bring necessary changes in employment contract format in the case of Bangladeshi female workers. 

The authorities in the KSA do need to understand the fact Bangladesh female workers are going there to serve the Saudi families. In exchange what they expect are regular payment of their wages and fair and humane treatment. If any worker does fail to live up to any employer's expectation, the employment contract with her should be terminated and let her return home safely.

What is being published, rightly or wrongly, in the media, local and international, about the maltreatment of housemaid in the KSA does undermine the image of that country. It needs to be understood by the authorities there.

zahidmar10@gmail.com 

 

 

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