Domestic work or domestic slavery?

Though, there is still one form of slavery or the other taking place all over the world, I was particularly specific on this topic after watching a recent footage showing how a housemaid was savagely killed by her supposed Arab employer.
This article, therefore, aims at joining the multiple voices clamouring for the governments of some Gulf countries, United Nations and other international communities to end the practice of domestic servitude the victims of which are mostly African and Asian migrants stuck in many Gulf countries as housemaids and also to expose the horrendous experience these housemaids undergo while caged at their work places. Among these victims are many Nigerians who leave their country for political or economic reasons.

At first, I couldn’t have expounded on sensitive issues as this, even more so, as it involves the place of birth of our noble prophet, the country inhabiting the holy sites, the Qibla and the pilgrimage of any Muslim but the issue at hand transcends any sentiment. Urged on by the verse in Suratul An-nisa 4:135, my resolve became boldened.

I became convinced that a crime is a crime irrespective of the perpetrators and that Islam itself speaks in defence of justice. While many Arabs in Gulf countries are piously angelic, treating their housemaids with honour and dignity, the same cannot be said of others.

That’s to say, others are fiendishly sadistic as they take delight in humiliating their African and Asian housemaids turning them into modern day slaves.
It has been a long tradition since time immemorial for African Muslims to stay in Saudi Arabia and work as domestic servants after performing their pilgrimage. Consequently, domestic service in Saudi Arabia came to be considered as one of the lucrative jobs among many Asians and Africans, particularly, Nigerians.

Recently, as a result of political and economic challenges, Nigeria has witnessed the proliferation of bogus travel agents who fill their clients with utopian ideals about Gulf countries and who themselves are loosely linked with the recruiters in those countries. Desperate to live the country, these clients easily fall for these lies and illusions. Hence, there has been an influx of youth from Nigeria into Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon and some few Arab countries in Africa like Libya and Algeria.

While most of the pilgrims working as domestic servants in Saudi Arabia before were mostly people of diverse age and sex, the recent influx has seen political refugees and economic migrants constituting of youth—largely females. Some of these migrants usually become disillusioned a few days after their arrivals in such countries as their recruiters leave them at the mercy of their employers. Having no body to turn to for help, they often end up becoming subject of molestation and other forms of gender-based violence.

Women are believed to be more exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of these harassments than men. Perhaps their relatively delicate biological constitution and the fact that most of them live in the same compounds with their employers heighten their risks of being abused. The emotional story of Sarah, a Ghanaian maid in Lebanon who narrowly made her escape from the abusive family she had been working for, is a good example of how prone to abuse housemaids are. Sarah was not her original name but chose to be called as such for her safety.

Shortly after her escape, she narrates to Mark Stone, a Middle East correspondent, on how she was raped at knifepoint by a brother of her employer while she was taking a bath. It was also recounted, in another video clip, by a former housemaid in one of the Arab countries that a housemaid can be called to work at any time and that she is not assigned one particular job like say cooking, cleaning or attending children instead she is assigned different tasks including, in some instances, attending to the sexual needs of her employer or some members of his family or both. Should she fail one of these tasks assigned to her, she is treated savagely. The case of housemaids being thrashed by their bosses in Gulf countries has become a norm. Racist and invective are the common languages used to address the housemaids on slight provocation according to a former housemaid.

Though there have been many reports of violence, sexual exploitations and forced labour against domestic servants by their masters and mistresses, a case of gruesome murder of a domestic servant is rarely reported (maybe even that is rampant but the perpetrators efficiently cover their tracks so that they don’t go public.)
I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw in one footage sent to my sister on 16th, September 2021, from Saudi Arabia via Whatssap.

I had never before imagined a barbarous and atrocious act of that magnitude could be perpetrated against animals at this so called civilized age much less a human being. The footage videotapes a person, allegedly, Saudi noble man, attired decently in Arab dress closing in on a black lady, supposedly his maid, who is lying on the floor, screaming, frantically struggling to disentangle herself from her supposed killer. On the other hand , stands, a broadly built woman, dressed in green jacket, clenched in her left hand is what looks like a syringe, yelling at the struggling and screaming woman to stop resisting (at what only God knows what). This second black lady could be a nurse or whatever. One thing I’m certain about she too is under the payroll of this assumed killer.

Even though, the man’s intention is obviously bent on killing the other housemaid, this woman has never made any attempt to intervene. She can just be seen throughout the footage yelling and pleading with the screaming girl to stop resisting. The man is captured in the video clip incessantly hitting the face of this screaming lady with his right hand and his right knee, while pinning her down with his left hand and his left knee so that she can’t escape. Finally the man ruthlessly strangulates her.

Prompted by this macabre footage, I tenaciously grew more curious and went further to download some television interviews, more violent footages and audios (some of which I have already hinted about) of some ex-housemaids in Gulf countries recounting their harrowing experiences while conducting their jobs as housemaids.

The first video, according to Middle East Eye, is of Sumi Akter 25 year old Bangladeshi maid bitterly and soulfully crying and also begging for her escape. She shares how she was beaten, tortured and abused by her employer and his family in Saudi Arabia. She is said to have posted the video to her Facebook account where it was viewed by millions and prompted protests in Bangladesh. Another footage videos a black lady trying to get out from what looks like a toilet while being sent back by repeated flogs by her supposed Arab boss. The incidence,

as shown in the video clip, takes place in a family room in an Arab quarter, in an unidentified country. Arab family and other black housemaids can be seen in the footage. An Arab lady can be heard asking the enraged boss to stop beating the black lady but he doesn’t seem to listen. Later the beaten housemaid is captured standing in the middle of the living room her back awash with blood.

In one audio recently trending on social media, an ex-Nigerian housemaid in Oman shares her tormenting experience. She recounts how she had to leave two jobs on account of advances made to her by her lesbian mistresses.

To end this crime, The United Nations should impose laws checkmating the activities of those bogus domestic service agencies and their clients internationally. The governments of the Gulf states should crack down on those households who take advantage of the defenceless, migrant domestic workers in their states. The killers such as the one described above shouldn’t deserve to live. They should be tracked down and brought to justice to serve as deterrents to others. United Nations should also formulate stricter laws safeguarding the rights of domestic workers internationally. The governments of the countries where these migrants come from should ensure that the rights of their citizens are not only protected within their countries but also in foreign countries.

Yusuf Shuaibu Yusuf
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