Domestic Workers’ Abuse in Muslim Countries

Posted on January 2, 2007

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Source of testimonials: Human Rights Watch

While abuse of domestic workers is a global disgrace, taking place in many non-Muslim countries including Hong Kong, the USA, and Singapore, it also occurs in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Morocco, Malaysia and many others. Here are some examples of the type of abuse that domestic workers (many of whom are themselves Muslims) experience in Muslim countries:

Selected Testimonials:

When the lady went to drop off the children to the grandmother’s house, the man would stay at home … he raped me many, many times; once a day, every day for three months. He hit me a lot because I didn’t want to have sex. I don’t know what a condom is, but he used some tissues after he raped me. [After paying off my three months’ debt] I took a knife, I said, ‘Don’t get near me, what are you doing?’ I told the lady; she was very angry with me and [the next day] she took me to the harbor and said she bought a ticket for me to Pontianak. I had no money to get home from Pontianak. I haven’t gone to a doctor.
– Zakiah, returned domestic worker from Malaysia, age 20, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004.

My employers used only abusive words. They didn’t hit me…they would say things like, “Why don’t you jump out of the window? Rather than thinking about your parents, it would be better if you just committed suicide by jumping out of the window.” The wife was really angry and used bad words. She called me a pig, a prostitute, an easy woman.
—Sri Mulyani, Indonesian domestic worker, age thirty, Singapore, February 19, 2005

I worked [there] for three months. Sometimes I did not get any food. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and slept at 10 p.m.…[My employer] shouted at me, “You are a poor person. You have to know your position, you are here to work.” I was not allowed to go out of the house. I had not seen my family since I left home. I was not paid any salary.… [My employer] hit me when she was angry. Three times she hit. Once she slapped my face and then kicked me above my right hip. It hurt and swelled up. I did not go to the doctor. She laughed when I asked that I wanted to see the doctor.
—Asma, child domestic worker, age sixteen, Medan, Indonesia, December 13, 2004

I was locked up inside the agency for 45 days. We were Indonesians and Filipinos; 25 of us. We got food only once a day. We couldn’t go out at all. The agency said we owed them 1,500 Dhm – three months’ salary. Five of us ran away; we used a blanket to escape from the second floor. Four of us got injured.
– Cristina Suarez, Filipina domestic worker, age 26, Dubai, UAE, February 27, 2006.

Twice I lost consciousness as a result of the beatings. The first time it was raining and there was a leak in the house and I forgot to put a bowl out [to catch the water]. She hit me with a mop. The second time, when I washed the clothes, the color ran and the employer hit me. I said I was sorry and that I would return the cost by deducting it from my salary, but she still hit me. She never sent me to see a doctor or to the hospital. Once I was a hit by a wooden stick and she hit me until the stick broke. When I woke up late, after 5 a.m., the employer would pour hot water on me, like if I woke up at 6 a.m.
—Titi Hasanah, Indonesian domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 25, 2004

Employers or labor agents may inflict physical abuse so severe that it leads to a domestic worker’s hospitalization or death. For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed Widyaningsih, a twenty-seven-year-old domestic worker, who was hospitalized after returning from employment in Saudi Arabia. She had received surgery on her ears due to injuries caused by repeated beatings on her head, and had several scars on her arms and feet from her employer having beaten her with a cable and other implements.

Again, similar cases of horrible abuse have taken place in non-Muslim countries too, leading to national and regional attention. In late 2001, a Singaporean employer, Ng Hua Chye, beat his nineteen-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, Muawanatul Chasanah, so severely that her stomach ruptured and she died. An autopsy found evidence of more than two hundred other injuries on her body, a result of whipping, kicks, punches, burns, and scalding. Ng Hua Chye was tried and sentenced to eighteen years in prison and caning. The Singaporean advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too was formed in response to the Muawanatul Chasanah case.

Nirmala BonatIn Malaysia, graphic pictures of the burned and beaten body of nineteen-year-old Indonesian domestic worker Nirmala Bonat were printed in newspapers, sparking an outcry, including an official apology from the Malaysian government. Bonat’s employer, Yim Pek Ha, allegedly had poured boiling water on her, beat her, and pressed a hot iron on her breasts and back as punishment for mistakes in ironing clothes. The case is ongoing. You can download and read the whole report from Human Rights Watch by clicking here.

The abuse incidents detailed above are clearly against the core principles of ‘adl (justice) and birr (righteousness) in Islam. Muslim employers, their companies and their governments should know better and need to remember that they are all ultimately accountable to the Almighty for such subhuman treatment of their workers–whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Besides the drastic Islamic injunctions against rape and sexual abuse, compare the above treatment of domestic workers to the manner in which Islam demands that Muslims behave:

1. In a hadith reported by Amr Ibn Harayth, the Prophet (s) said: ‘If you show kindness to your servant while employing him in some task, this will weigh heavily in your favour on the Day of Judgement. That will be your reward.’

2. In hadith #888 narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar and transmitted by Ibn Majah in Tirmidhi, the Prophet (s) said: “Give the hireling his wages before his sweat dries.”

3. In a hadith narrated by Abu Huraira in Sahih Bukhari (volume 3, hadith 430, the Prophet (s) said: “Allah says, ‘I will be against three persons on the Day of Resurrection: one who makes a covenant in My Name, but he proves treacherous, one who sells a free person (as a slave) and eats the price, and one who employs a laborer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages.’ “