Desperate Kenyan maids abused in Middle East despite ban

Tue May 26, 2015 9:25pm EDT
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By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Lebanon, a Kenyan maid has bleach poured over her head as punishment for cleaning the bathroom too slowly by an employer who threatens to send her home in a box.

In Saudi Arabia, another domestic worker from Kenya is given a grim choice: sex with the boss or death.

"I felt like I was a prostitute," she recalled. "I used to obey because I wanted to come back to my country safely."

Lured by the promise of well-paid work and a chance to escape joblessness at home, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are thought to be employed in the Middle East, sending much-needed remittances to their families every year.

But reports of abuse prompted Kenya last September to ban its citizens from seeking domestic work in the Middle East and to revoke the licenses of 930 recruitment agencies.

Neighbouring Ethiopia and Uganda have also banned their workers from going overseas in a bid to end exploitation.

Domestic workers in the Gulf have traditionally come from Asia but the number of African migrants is increasing, driven by the lack of opportunities at home, experts say.

In Kenya, only 6.25 percent of those entering the job market each year find formal employment, according to the World Bank.   Continued...