Treat 'Causes' of Maid Abuse

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THERE are 550,000 housemaids from India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Ethiopia living in Kuwait, according to the Ministry of Interior. To put that into context, that is just under 20 percent of the total population of Kuwait, or one housemaid for every two Kuwaitis. Of these housemaids, thousands will run away each year to their embassies complaining of mistreatment and abuse, non-payment of wages, or overwork. In fact, credible human rights groups estimate that up to 10 percent of those working as domestic helpers in Kuwait are subject to some form of exploitation. The "maid issue" has gotten so bad - and such bad press - that even the Kuwaiti government has acknowledged a serious problem. In the last six months, the government has promised to set up a hotline for housemaids to report abuse, convene a committee to investigate the costs of instituting a minimum wage, launch a public awareness campaign, and build a 700-person shelter in Khaitan for runaways. Unfortunately though, these initiatives are just not going to be enough. The reforms promised by the government treat the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of the problem. To truly make headway on the issue of housemaid exploitation, fundamental changes in how labor is regulated must occur - on both sides of the Arabian Sea. The problems facing migrant housemaids start in their home countries, with a recruitment process that is rife with abuse. According to Human Rights Watch, women are lured to the Gulf with false promises about the salaries they will be earning, the countries they will work in, and the work conditions involved. Moreover, they pay dearly for the privilege of coming over to countries like Kuwait. Women will often sell personal possessions and assume debt burdens in order to pay local recruitment agencies (illegal) fees to get to the Gulf, only to find that the salaries they will be making fall short of their expectations. This is not a problem that the government of...
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