Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Most Dangerous Job in Kuwait

From today’s Al Watan:

KUWAIT: The operations room received a call informing them that an Asian domestic maid tried to commit suicide by stabbing herself while at her sponsor”s house in the Salmiya area. Police officers and medical teams rushed to the scene where paramedics administered emergency medical aid and rushed her to Mubarak Hospital, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit. However, on interrogating her, she alleged that she did not attempt suicide but that she had been stabbed. Investigations are underway to ascertain the authenticity of the statement.

OK. Stop and think about it. How do you stab yourself? I can imagine, if I were wanting to commit suicide, a hundred ways easier than trying to stab oneself. Don’t you think the police would have been suspicious from the very beginning?

Every time I read about another domestic committing suicide, I wonder. I have heard many many things.

I wonder how many women commit suicide by “jumping” off the balcony? Those who survive often say they were thrown, or pushed, by “the madam.”

One girl told me that every maid brought into the household where she works immediately has to have her hair cut very short (and unflattering) and to wear voluminous and ugly uniforms, because “the madam” is afraid her husband and sons will be attracted to the maids.

I wonder how many slaps, how much screaming, how many humiliations, how many approaches or attacks from male members of the household one endures before absconding?

Think about it. You’re from a really really poor country, and you leave behind family, even your own children, for the hope of earning enough money so that the children can go to school, and have a better life, so that maybe you can build your own little bungalow one day, not fancy, just a roof over your head. People who come here to earn a living have a lot of incentive to make it work. They will endure a great deal before seeking a way out.

I have so many friends who treat their household help like members of the family, teaching them new skills, helping them earn extra money, giving them food and clothing. I believe they are in the majority, the kind employers.

But so many stories of domestics being abused! Even if it is a mere, say 5%, what options does the domestic have? The brave ones, the self-confident ones, might go to the police, only to have her employers state that she stole something, and she finds herself under arrest, or quickly deported. Many cannot even leave the house, and have no telephone with which to call a friend in an emergency situation.

Will the new labor law have anything to say about protecting these very vulnerable family helpers from a dangerous or abusive employer? What effect does it have on children to see their parents treating employees like mere possessions? How does it impact our souls and our entrance into paradise when we don’t (as the Quran instructs) pay our employees their promised salary at the agreed upon time?

What will happen to this poor woman, stabbed, in a strange hospital, whose employers claim she stabbed herself?

March 10, 2009 - Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Social Issues


  1. It’s not always the maid who is the victim. There are problems both sides! All involved are humans – good and bad everywhere. Problems naturally arise, even if the majority are fair employers/employees.

    Comment by Bu Yousef | March 10, 2009 | Reply

  2. You are absolutely right, Bu Yousef. We don’t always know who we have invited into our homes. I have heard hair raising stories on both sides.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. u know el ad ely y76ona ely about ra7ma oo madre shno.. wala yakser el 5a6er.. hope it shwaya alleviates the problem :S we treat our maids like 2nd mothers cuz one of them practically raised me.. and when i went to study abroad r7t salamt 3laha 3gub ma salamt 3la omy.. see .. not so bad 🙂

    Comment by justme | March 10, 2009 | Reply

  4. Historically, Arabs were the first slave traders. (read up: What makes the servitude domestics and laborers serve in Arab countries any different – oh, other than they have less rights than they did when they were bought and sold?

    Formerly, if a slave were to become pregnant, the master would have to marry her. And now? She’s sent to prison until she can be deported and the baby is wisked away to an orphanage raised by people who may or may not treat it kindly (but eventually will gain a lower class Kuwaiti citizenship and receive benefits for the rest of his/her life; 0-18 is the problem).

    Comment by Jemima | March 11, 2009 | Reply

  5. Many, many of the people who come to work in Kuwait go back to their home countries better off, financially. Those from the poorest countries are able to build homes, finance educations for their children, put food on the table for many family members. That is not slavery.

    A small percentage live in unbearable situations, with employers who don’t understand the boundaries of the employer – employee relationship. That is where the problems occur.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 11, 2009 | Reply

  6. Perhaps it is, as you suggest, a small minority who conduct themselves so heartlessly with domestic help, but the level of abuse, and sheer multitude of such cases (purported suicides among other things)are really staggering for a country the size of Kuwait. It is difficult not to infer from this a certain apathy, or if not apathy a concern which does not really extend beyond issuing customary expressions of regret to the effect of “oh, how unfortunate it is” on the part of the majority.

    Inspite of the new labour laws, a culture of strict accountabilty, and the conferral of active rights on these employees is not likely to happen in the near future. There may well be some kuwaitis who are acutely unhappy by this state of affairs, but are afraid to call for really rigorous reforms. Even if the bold steps cannot yet be taken, there are a variety of ways to effect a change of mindset, and generate increased public dissaprobation at such employers. i’ve heard of television advertisments during ramadhan extolling citizens to treat thier domestic help in an equitable manner…..perhaps these adds have been on for a long time, but I just came to hear of them recently….and while it may seem sort of trite, they are a really encouraging step forward, and at least constitute an acknowlegment of what goes on in some households. This kind of thing, on a much more extensive scale and through other mediums, could really effect change, and would be a good precurser to more radical institutional reforms which will hopefully take place in the future.

    Comment by olivegreen | March 11, 2009 | Reply

  7. It’s difficult not to be continually offended by the lack of active interventions, protections, and recourse for people (not just domestics) who suffer at the hands of their employers. The whole system of sponsorship here is medieval and gives draconian power over body and soul to the employer. Of course, people are people and there are problems on both sides of the equation, but no one can deny that the balance of power lies with the sponsor and by the sheer volume of the reported cases of abuse one cannot but admit “…where there is smoke, there is fire.” (An interesting note… for every case reported, there are approximately nine which are not. This stat has been demonstrated to be applicable in most cultures.)
    The sad thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any will to change…just a lot of rhetoric and hand wringing. Or so it seems to me.

    Comment by DaisyMae | March 12, 2009 | Reply

  8. lol…daisy mai…i dont even see the rhetoric..(that would at least signify that this is an issue generating significant public outrage)..or at least any substantial rhetoric which is really targeted for domestic consumption, as opposed to merely placating International human rights bodies.

    Comment by olivegreen | March 12, 2009 | Reply

  9. Ooooh, I hear disagreement all the time – Kuwaitis who are adamantly against the mis-treatment of household help, who are campaigning against the greedy guys who bring them in by the thousands, and then assign them with no regard to training or capability or interest. I am in households frequently where the help is treated with respect and dignity.

    Lasting change happens in small steps, and I believe the steps being taken in Kuwait are sincere, and will effect change. It’s rooted in the sponsorship problem; there has to be some guarantee your salary is paid, and that you can walk away if you aren’t treated appropriately.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 12, 2009 | Reply

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