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The Abuse of Foreign Domestic Workers – Are We Turning a Blind Eye?

This is a subject that is very close to home for me, not only because I’ve witnessed before, but also because I find it inhuman. If you aren’t following the story that I’ve been writing concerning the abuse of a nanny that I witnessed as a child, you may want to start with that. What makes this subject as big of a problem as it is today is the fact that little to nothing is said about it.

In the story about the young abused nanny, the setting took place in a tropical country in West Africa. It is very common and very ‘affordable’ to hire a nanny or domestic worker there. But, what is different from what I will talk about today is the fact that most of the domestic workers (if not all) are local to the country, just as many other countries. Just because it happens locally doesn’t make it less worthy of speaking about, but I wanted to specifically talk about the growing problem of the mistreatment of foreign workers in some countries.

Traveling for jobs
Today, there are thousands of people who travel from Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, or from various African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria to Arab/golf countries in search of jobs. They usually go through agencies that advertise ‘well-paying jobs’ and sell them many promises. Some of them even require a good amount of money in exchange for a ‘good job’ abroad. The problem is that many of them end up in different jobs then they initially signed up for.

Deception of job description
After going through agencies in hopes of landing better jobs, many potential workers end up in foreign countries with job descriptions that do not match what they initially signed up for. Some even end up in countries other than the ones they applied to go to. It is true that there are people who do move to Arab countries to become domestic workers, but some end up as domestic workers by force. What makes it even more of a problem is the way they end up being treated.

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Inhuman torture and violation 
A large number of domestic workers who work in foreign countries find themselves with families who mistreat them, abuse them, insult them, and violate and torture them. Some of the injustice they face include getting beat up mercilessly, constantly being put down, called names, raped, NOT paid, malnourished, prevented sleep, and threatened. To make matters worse, they usually find absolutely no help and remain stuck with the abusive family for years.

Fear of getting justice 
The disturbing reality of the abuse of domestic workers is a global phenomenon; at least in countries where getting a domestic worker is the norm. When human beings know that they can get away with wrongdoing, they usually aren’t ashamed to act upon it. Sadly, many countries do little to nothing to prevent such inhuman acts by law enforcement. And even when there are laws against it, usually, nothing is done about it. Victims often go without reporting the problem because they may end up being the ones paying the price, not only socially, but also by law! They have seen and heard it happened to many others in similar situations as them, so their fear is very justified.

When it’s done locally, there may be hopes of extended family members getting involved. But, when it happens in a foreign country, especially in a country where the abused person does not speak the language, it makes matters much worse. Getting tortured for a day is bad enough, but when one finds herself in such conditions for years, simply because of the lack of help, it’s disgusting. Something MUST be done to stop this!

Awareness and warning
What part do we play to stop such injustices that happen around us or globally? The least we can do is to speak loudly about it, write about it, and warn others to protect them from falling victim to it. If we find ourselves in a position to make a difference by physically stopping it, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Though injustice happens everywhere and we should care no matter who does it, when it is done by Muslims, it should especially concern us. We were commanded in Islam to help each other whether we are the oppressed or the oppressors.

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.)! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The prophet (s.a.w.) said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Al Bukhari

Many people may feel the need not to speak publicly about such problems when they happen in Muslim majority countries because they may not want others to ‘blame’ Islam for such injustice. Although it is true that we live in a world today where both the media and people, in general, blame Islam for every negative action done by a Muslim, it still shouldn’t be a deterring reason to speak against injustice.  Let’s focus on implementing Islam, and sometimes, it requires public awareness. Our focus should be on enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, not on what others may think.

And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.Surah Al Imraan (3:104)


The good part
Despite the injustice of many foreign domestic workers around the world, we can also appreciate cases where workers are treated with dignity and respect. There are many families that give their domestic workers their rights, appreciate them, and treat them nothing less than their helpers or even family members. This should actually be the norm, but it isn’t. Regardless, we can still appreciate those who do the right thing.

Have you ever witnessed injustice?
How did you respond?

Umm Sumayyah
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