Wednesday, 27 June 2012

In a startling revelation the US State Department’s annual report of human trafficking 2012 points out that foreign labour including those from India are subjected to forced labour and a lesser extent, forced prostitution

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Saudi Arabia is one of the favourite destinations
for illiterate and unskilled workers from India, but in a startling
revelation the US State Department’s annual report of human
trafficking 2012 points out that “they are subjected to forced labour
and a lesser extent, forced prostitution”.

Men and women from India and other countries voluntarily travel to
Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled labourers. Some
of them subsequently “face conditions indicative of involuntary
servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without
rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and
restrictions on movement such as withholding of passports or
confinement to the workplace.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest contingents of Indian migrant
workers in the Arabian Gulf. A considerable number of unskilled or
low-skilled workers are from Andhra Pradesh. Women domestic labour is
largely from cities like Hyderabad, notorious for minor girl child
marriages with elderly Arab nationals.

“Although many migrant workers sign contracts delineating their
rights, some report work conditions that are substantially different
from those described in the contract. Other migrant workers never see
a contract at all, leaving them especially vulnerable to forced
labour, including debt bondage,” the report said.

Saudi Arabia has legislation which states that foreign workers receive
permission from their employer to get an “exit visa” before they are
able to leave the country. This provision has come handy for
unscrupulous Arab employers to force migrant labourers to work for
months or years beyond their contract term because their employer will
not grant them an exit permit.

“Women, primarily from Asian and African countries, are believed to be
forced into prostitution in Saudi Arabia. Some female domestic workers
are reportedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running
away from abusive employers,” the report said.

Referring to the menace of minor girl marriages with the elderly Arab
nationals, the US report said Saudi nationals travel to destinations
including India to solicit prostitution. Some Saudi men used legally
contracted “temporary marriages” in countries including India as a
means by which to sexually exploit young girls and women overseas.

The report accuses the government of Saudi Arabia of not fully
complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of
trafficking, and not making significant efforts to do so.

Domestic workers – the population most vulnerable to forced labour –
remained excluded from general labour law protections, and employers
continued to regularly withhold workers’ passports as a means of
keeping them in forced labour, despite this practice being prohibited
by a 2000 Council of Ministers’ decision. There have been hundreds of
incidents of women from Andhra Pradesh held captive or forced to
return wages.

The report suggested reforms in the sponsorship system and enforcing
existing laws to discourage employers from withholding workers’
passports and restricting their movements, including arbitrarily
denying permission for exit visas, as a means of preventing
trafficking abuses. It also suggested that authorities significantly
increase efforts to prosecute, punish, and stringently sentence
traffickers, including abusive employers and those culpable of
trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

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