Saudi activist speaks up for domestic helpers

March 16, 2013

A Saudi human rights activist has called upon the Labour Ministry to consider as traffickers those transferring domestic helpers to new sponsors, often without the knowledge or express consent of the person who is traded to a new employer.

“We see classifieds in the print and social media in which people advertise that they have domestic helpers to transfer,” Khalid Al Fakhri, a legal consultant with the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), said. “These are traffickers and should be held legally accountable. Moving someone from one family to another should happen only under specific criteria. Several domestic helpers are transferred from their sponsor to another sponsor and they are not even consulted or informed about it. There is a huge difference between people and commodities,” he said in remarks published by local Arabic daily Al Watan on Monday.

The activist also called for action to put an end to the exploitation of children who are forced to sell things near traffic lights or in popular markets. “This is another facet of trafficking in people and it is a blatant violation of Saudi Arabia’s laws and international covenants,” Al Fakhri said. “Such a despicable exploitation of children deprives them of their right to education and to enjoythe various stages of their childhood.”

Al Fakhri also pushed for action to help women who initiated ‘khale’ divorce to end unhappy marriages but were forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money to their husbands to get them to agree on the separation.

“In some cases, husbands ask for huge amounts of money from their wives to accept the divorce. These amounts are often much higher than what the husbands paid in dowry for the marriage. Unfortunately, most of the time, the women do not have evidence about the men asking for high amounts,” he said.

Another example of trafficking in people, Al Fakhri said, was when men refused to allow their daughters to get married. “The judge should impose punitive measures against a father who does not respond to the request of his daughter and does not allow her to get married when there is no religious ground for the rejection of the groom,” he said.

Al Fakhri said that prostitution was the ugliest aspect of trafficking in people, “especially when the exploited are children who are not aware of the dangers associated with what they are doing”.

Under an anti-trafficking law adopted by Saudi Arabia in July 2009, people found guilty of exploitation are jailed for up to 15 years and fined up to 1 million Saudi riyals (Dh977,820). The definition of trafficking adopted by the Saudi cabinet includes holding a person under one’s control for sexual abuse, forced labour, involuntary begging, slavery or slavery-like practices and enforced organ removal or medical experimentation.

The law calls for tougher punitive action if the crime is committed against a child, a woman, or a person with special needs, or if the person involved in the crime is the victim’s husband, close relative or anyone using a position in law enforcement to keep other people in bondage.


About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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