Trapped in the Home: Global Trafficking and Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers
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According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, 12.3 million people are being held in conditions of forced labor and/or servitude at any one time. 1 The United States Department of State estimates that each year 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders. 2 Eighty percent of these victims are women and girls. 3
An estimated 100 million women, mostly from the world's lesser-developed countries, leave their homes each year and migrate abroad in the hopes of finding a better life.4 A large number of these female migrants turn to domestic work as a means of supporting themselves and their families back home.5 Unfortunately, a serious pattern of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse against foreign domestic workers exists around the world. From India to Kuwait, to the United States, female domestic workers are routinely trafficked and subjected to conditions of forced labor and servitude.
HOW MANY WOMEN WORK AS MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS WORLDWIDE?
- While it is impossible to know exactly how many women and girls are employed as domestic workers around the world, it is well in the tens of millions.6
- In the Gulf States female migrants comprise almost 30 percent of the total number of migrants in any one year; many of them become domestic workers.7
- An estimated 280,000 migrants work as domestic servants in Kuwait.8
- Domestic work constitutes the most prevalent form of wage employment for women in Asia. 9
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY FEMALE MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS WORLDWIDE?
Demographic and social factors around the world have contributed to the growing trend of migrant women working as domestic servants. Economic development in many parts of the world is proportional to the increased demand for migrant domestic workers. In some wealthier countries, native citizens are often reluctant to do this type of difficult and undervalued work.10
WHAT FORMS OF EXPLOITATION DO MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS FACE?
Long hours for little pay:
- Migrant domestic workers are sometimes expected to work up to 19 hours per day and to be available around the clock. Many of these women are not given any days off and frequently their promised wages are reduced or withheld completely.11
- For Indian women employed as domestic workers in Kuwait, for example, the average basic wage ranges from $172 to $193 per month12 and they can be expected to work an average of between 78 and 100 hours a week,13 with only one or two days off each month.14
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse:
- Physical violence against female migrant domestic workers is widely reported and ranges from “slaps, to severe beatings using implements such as shoes, belts, sticks or household implements; knocking heads against walls; and burning skin with irons, among other forms of violence.”15
- Female migrant domestic workers can sometimes experience sexual harassment or abuse by the male occupants of the house. 16
- For example, one third of domestic worker cases in Kuwait investigated by Human Rights Watch in 1992 involved rape or sexual assault of maids. Over two-thirds of these involved physical assault, including kicking, beating with sticks, slapping and punching.17
- Some female migrant domestic workers are deprived of food or provided with only leftovers or rotting food.18
- In some cases, employers deny the worker contact with family and friends and the outside world causing her to feel isolated and vulnerable in the new country.
- In some cases, psychological, physical and sexual abuse has contributed to suicides of female migrant domestic workers.19
Violations of privacy:
- Sometimes, domestic workers have their rooms searched and their mail opened. Many are not allowed to make private phone calls.20
- Too often domestic workers are not provided with private or adequate accommodations and are forced to sleep with the children of the family, the elderly persons for which they care, or with other domestic servants. In some cases domestic servants are forced to sleep in public spaces, such as the kitchen or bathroom.21
Limitations on freedom of movement and access to medical or legal services:
- In some cases, employers of migrant female domestic workers confiscate their employees' passports and travel documents upon their arrival in the household. Confiscation of personal documents makes it extremely difficult for domestic workers to escape the household or get legal assistance.22
- In some countries failure to carry proper identification in the street is illegal. Women who have had their passports confiscated therefore risk arrest if they leave the house.23
- In order to receive medical attention in some countries an individual must present proper identification. Women who have had their personal documents confiscated are therefore dependent upon their employers to get access to medical facilities.24
For more information on the condition of domestic workers: