Friday, October 28, 2011

Domestic servitude – an international crime?

Legislation to protect some 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon should be enacted by the government, said the UN’s first special rapporteur on contemporary slavery, Gulnara Shahinian.
By Daisy Mohr in Beirut

“Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are legally invisible which makes them acutely vulnerable to domestic servitude,” said the UN expert in Beirut on Monday, at the end of her first visit to the country. “The domestic worker is required to live in the employer’s
household, faces racial and gender discrimination and is deprived of the necessary legal protection to safeguard his or her rights.”

Shahinian urged the Lebanese authorities to ensure that domestic workers obtain legal protection and have prompt access to remedies and justice. Also that employers are aware of their obligations when recruiting someone. She warned that without legal protection some of the workers end up living in domestic servitude, under absolute control and with dependency on their employers through economic exploitation and physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Cultural bondage
Shahinian met with government officials, NGOs, religious groups and victims who shared their stories with her, while in Lebanon. “Forced labour and confinement to the house seem common problems. Irrespective of what people think, these workers have the right to movement,” she said. “I met with women who had been forced to work long hours without any remuneration or valid contract, physically and sexually abused and morally harassed by constantly being insulted and belittled,” said Shahinian who noticed that there are also many cultural misunderstandings. “Some of the girls told me they don’t get food. When I asked what they meant by that, it turned out the employer wouldn’t give them rice three times a day. Many Asian people are used to that. They got other food but no rice and so they felt they didn’t eat. Therefore it is important that countries of origin also provide the workers with information and orientation.”

Languishing law

A national steering committee, set up to address the issues domestic workers face, has succeeded in developing a standard unified contract and a new draft law. “This law has been in its drafting stage for the past three years and it is now time that it is made a priority by the government. The law needs to balance the rights and obligations of both the employer and employee. It also needs to explicitly guarantee that migrant domestic workers are allowed to keep their passports, have freedom of movement, a day off outside the employers’ house, adequate private lodging and fair wages,” Shahinian said. She added that once the laws are in place, monitoring and implementation will be the big issue.

No blame
This is the first time she visits the Arab region. Gulf countries are high up on her list. “My mandate is not financed. I applied to visit many countries but I receive many rejections. It is not easy; many countries think that inviting me means they confirm they have slavery,” says Shahinian. She stressed she was truly impressed by the positive steps taken by the Lebanese government. “Country visits are the beginning of a long-term cooperation with a state. I felt a real commitment to change here,” says the expert and adds that she feels aggressive measures don’t work. “I didn’t come here to blame but to establish a partnership.”

International crime?

As far as Shahinian is concerned, domestic servitude could become an international crime. “Domestic workers that are trafficked, that might become an international crime. For now domestic servitude is a crime, but not internationally,” concludes the lawyer with extensive experience as a consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking.

1 comment:

  1. the matter of domestic helpers in lebanon is highly misunderstood... its true that there are few cases of mistreatment but also in the countries of these domestic helpers their governments and even their families mistreat them worse than their employers.... is it better for a human being to die of hunger or to be thrown in the street or to be forced into prostitution or to become a beggar? or is it better to work and be kept well and fed and given money? this is not the place to discuss this issue in a sensational manner... the united nations international labor organization should hold an international conference on this matter and come up with a concensus on what is considered as proper so all countries can apply it... if the countries that export laborers pledge to feed and treat well their citizens i dont think that her citizens will want to go overseas to work... the workers know better what is good for them and not the people who make it their jobs to criticize domestic employers in lebanon... i say to all the people who criticize domestic employers in lebanon or anywhere else in the world to go feed the families of those workers and to educate them and give them jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!