DUBAI (Reuters) - Governments in the Middle East should act quickly in 2009 to fulfill promises to protect the rights of migrant women, a U.S.-based rights group said on Wednesday.
Millions of women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines work as maids in Arab states, many of which exclude domestic workers from protection in their labor laws.
Several countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar are in the process of drafting or debating changes to extend protection to domestic workers, but these have yet to be finalized.
"It is encouraging that governments are finally considering serious reforms, but these proposals mean nothing until the new protections are in place and being enforced," Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
"Each day of delay leaves migrant domestic workers open to abuses such as unpaid wages, being locked in their workplaces, and to physical and sexual abuse."
Human Rights Watch said abuses against domestic workers include 18-hour workdays with no days off, physical confinement in the workplace, denial of food, lack of payment for months or years, physical and sexual abuse.
The group urged all governments to ratify the U.N. Migrant Workers Convention, which guarantees migrants' human rights and promises state protection against abuse by employers, agents and public officials.
Human Rights Watch also said that countries of origin should do more to create employment options so that women are not forced to migrate, and to monitor the recruitment process.
Writing by Lin Noueihed, Editing by Dominic Evans