Beaten like slaves, treated like merchandise

Jonah Cohen and Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe tell us what “justice” looks like for foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

They start with the Sri Lankan woman whose sentence of beheading for having sex outside her marriage has been sent back for review.

But the public still doesn’t know her name, for whom she was working, what she testified in court, or who bore witness against her. Not her family, not even her “betrayed” husband, knows that she stands to be executed.

Why won’t her name be released? Officials involved with the case claim she doesn’t want her family to know how far she’s fallen, that she’d feel humiliated. But it’s hard to believe that the same court that would stone a woman to death would also protect her from the sting of social scandal. It’s just as likely that the housemaid’s name is being concealed to stifle media attention, as well as to imply her shame and guilt over a sexual crime for which her male judges might kill her.

Yeah Saudi officials are so concerned with their victims’ feelings of humiliation. Please.

If she does survive and make it home, she will be another in a string of horror stories.

“Now I have become a prostitute. I have come back home a prostitute,” says the woman in this video as she recounts the horror of her experience as a maid in Saudi Arabia. “The house I was working in threw me out on to the road. When I got into a taxi on the road, the driver took me to a brothel. I had to work as a prostitute for two months.”

Another woman says that she was tasked with looking after 14 children. “When I couldn’t manage, instead of taking me back to my agency, they sold me to another agency. And at that agency they hit me until I started bleeding from my skull.”

Beaten like slaves, treated like merchandise, these women are among the fortunate ones. Other young Sri Lankan housemaids, working for two dollars a day, never return home.

Human Rights Watch reports on this subject too.

You might have heard about the young woman who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia in 2013. But you probably haven’t heard of the underage housemaid whose corpse was just returned earlier this month to her parents in Sri Lanka.

She hanged herself in the spring. Or so it is claimed by Saudi authorities. Her parents are skeptical. “I have doubts that someone who was supposed to come home in May would kill herself like this,” her father says. “She called us and said she was coming in May.”

And these aren’t aberrations.

Namini Wijedasa, a Sri Lankan journalist, recently reported that “the tales of misery are too numerous to ignore.”

Few, if any, of these migrant workers receive the protection of domestic employment laws. Visiting workers in Saudi Arabia must obtain permission from their employers to exit legally from the kingdom. If that is not slave labor, what is?

It’s almost as if more religion doesn’t make people good.

7 Responses to “Beaten like slaves, treated like merchandise”