Trapped maids face life of abuse in Lebanon

Wed Dec 17, 2008 7:51pm EST
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By Yara Bayoumy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - An Ethiopian housemaid lies bandaged in a government hospital after falling from a 12th floor balcony. She says her Lebanese employer pushed her off.

"Madam asked me to hang the clothes. Then she came and pushed me from behind," the 25-year-old woman told Reuters. Too frightened to let her name be published, she said her employer had frequently threatened and abused her.

"Madam would tell me, 'I will spill hot oil on you', so I hid the oil. She would take a knife and threaten to kill me. She would beat me with shoes, pull my hair to the floor," the injured woman said, her face still bruised a month later.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), nearly every week one of an estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon dies. Suicide, falling while trying to escape their employer and untreated illness are the main causes of death. The employers are rarely prosecuted.

HRW says maids in Lebanon, as elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia, are vulnerable to beatings, rape and even murder for lack of national laws to protect them from abusive employers.

Live-in housemaids have been a fixture among well-off Lebanese families for years. They often do everything from heavy housework to nannying and helping with children's homework.

Many get no days off, work for up to 18 hours and are locked indoors. Others leave the house only to shop or walk a dog.

Employers, who routinely confiscate their passports to deter them from running away, promise to pay maids $150 to $250 a month depending on their nationalities. But many employers don't pay as agreed. Some verbally and physically abuse their workers.   Continued...

<p>A foreign domestic worker walks her employer's dog in a street in Beirut in this November 27, 2008 photo. REUTERS/Sara Fayad</p>