Abuse of Domestic Workers Encourages New Rights Initiative in Saudi Arabia

By: Jonathan Simmons

There is a new initiative in Saudi Arabia to finalize a 2005 draft law designed to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers.  Saudi legal expert Khaled bin Abdul Rahman told the Arab News daily, “The new law will solve a number of problems facing domestic staff and will help regulate the Kingdom’s unorganized domestic job sector (1).”


Bay Ismoyo, AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia, like many other Arab nations, does not have a specific set of laws designed to protect migrant domestic workers, who are not covered under the nation’s general labor laws.

Under current laws in the Middle East, domestics’ visas are usually arranged by their “sponsors,” the individual or agency they will be working for when they arrive.  It is common practice for a sponsor to confiscate the migrant domestic’s passport,  and in many places it is illegal for a domestic to break a contract with an employer by leaving to take other work (2).

These constraints lead to cases in which maids are kept essentially as slaves, with the sponsor providing food and housing but not an actual income, while holding on to their passports and confining them to the home.


1.  Arab News. January 28, 2011. “Legal  expert calls for laws to protect rights of domestic workers.” Retrieved January 31, 2011 from the Arab News website:   http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article245117.ece

2. Human Rights Watch. June 14, 2010.  “Middle East: End ‘Sponsored’ Gateway to Human Trafficking.” Retrieved February 1, 2011 from the Human Rights Watch website: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/06/14/middle-east-end-sponsored-gateway-human-trafficking

Further Reading:

Human Rights Watch: Legal Reforms Inadequate

HumanTrafficking.org: Expert in Trafficking in Persons Ends Visit to Lebanon

Daily Star reporter in Beirut: Seeking Hemathala: Sri Lenakan Domestic Missing in Lebanon

Amnesty International: Fresh Claims of Abuse of Indonesian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia

Reuters Video: Workers Claim Abuse in Lebanon


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