On the International Day against Trafficking in Persons, Bahrain: Domestic servants are still in the category of human trafficking

The United Nations General Assembly adopted on 2013 the 30thof July a World Day against Trafficking in Persons, a cross-border crime that does not stand in a particular country and its victims are millions of people where women, children and men are exploited for various purposes including forced labor and prostitution. This crime is punishable under international law.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates the number of victims of trafficking in persons at 21 million. According to UN reports, 11 million women and girls and 9 million men and children work under harsh conditions, according to the latest annual report of the US State Department.

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Trafficking in persons is divided into three main categories: trafficking for forced labor, trafficking for sexual exploitation and trafficking in human organs. The United Nations urges all States to seek to prevent and punish trafficking in persons and to save and protect victims. Failure to do so violates the human rights and fundamental freedoms of victims.

Thus, employers in Bahrain have violated human rights and the rights of migrant workers for many years to the point of human trafficking through the sponsorship system known as “Kafala”, where they impose heavy fees on workers to keep them in Bahrain for a free visa.

These include low wages, confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, in addition to the physical, psychological and sexual attacks in some cases, and the exploitation of bulk labor by the greedy who are making large sums of money from foreign workers and delude them to work in Bahrain by making false promises to provide jobs at attractive salaries. That is when the foreign workers borrow money or sell their property in their own countries and upon arriving in Bahrain, they find themselves without work. Thus, victims of trafficking are enticed by deceit or coercion and are deprived of their independence and freedom of movement and choice. This is the third largest criminal trade after trades of drugs and weapons.

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Bahrain has recently made progress in this area. Since 2006, the LMRA has been the body responsible for work permits for foreign workers. It has contributed to the development of programs and laws that prohibit employers from confiscating the passports of foreign workers and the right to move from one job to another. Yet, luring victims through false promises to earn money from workers seeking to get to work in Bahrain is still ongoing.

Bahrain has promulgated Law No. (1) of 2008 on trafficking in persons, which includes the concept of the crime of trafficking in persons and its penalty. This law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and imposes penalties ranging from 3 years to 15 years’ imprisonment. This law establishes the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, but this law does not contain basic protection for domestic servants.

The 2018 US State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons assessed the performance of 187 countries and regions, ranked them first of which is the best and the third the worst, and transferred the classification of Bahrain from the second level to the first level.

While SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights welcomes this progress, it still believes that the tools of supervision and inspection have not been applied to domestic servants, and are often women who are still working long hours without interruption and are not given weekends and become female prisoners and are often not allowed to communicate with their family. Their passports and documents are confiscated when they arrive in Bahrain and in cases where they are not allowed to return to their countries even if the visa has expired and is renewed without their knowledge or consent to their ignorance of their rights. They are often mistreated and are often signatories to work contracts that do not understand their language.

In addition, there is no law obliging the home owner to transfer the salary of the maid to a bank account that guarantees her rights if she claims not to receive her wages. In most cases, the maid cannot prove that she did not receive her wages, as she is signed on the receipt of her wages as soon as she arrives in Bahrain in a language she does not know. Often the maid does not know her rights and is afraid of making a complaint, especially if the owner of the house is an influential person in the state or in the military, which leads to violations of workers’ rights and their occurrence in cases of trafficking victims and impunity.

The offices of the agencies that recruit maids are sometimes placed these maids in detention in the offices because they refuse to work in homes where they are mistreated and are forced to return to work. In case of escape, the employer submits an escape complaint against the maid and she becomes an offender rather than a victim. In case of surrender or arrest, the authorities place them in detention until of the deportation order happen.

Trafficking in domestic servants in Bahrain requires the authorities to move and tighten the supervision of recruitment agencies, periodically inspect houses, check on maids and teach them their rights in their native languages, and clearly inform them of end of service rights, right of leave, right of expiration of the contract and means of communication with government agencies and embassies of their countries.

In addition, some influential people in Bahrain are involved in trafficking in persons, where they, through brokers abroad, delude women to work as waitresses in hotel restaurants or to earn good salaries in different sectors and after their arrival in Bahrain and as a result of these women paying huge sums to brokers in their countries, these women find themselves forced to respond to powerful blackmail and prostitution in some hotels.

In this regard, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Develop domestic legislation and laws that criminalize human trafficking to include domestic servants.
  2. Implementation of these laws to all, including influential in the state and members of the ruling family.
  3. Establish shelter centers for victims of human trafficking for the duration of their settlement rather than detention in detention centers in police stations.

Activating committees for continuous monitoring and inspection of houses and inspecting the conditions of the maids periodically and effectively

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