One of the most disconcerting issues in Kuwait is that of domestic helpers in the country. Everybody responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of household helpers is aware that this issue needs to be fixed, but no one seems to have a feasible solution.
Ever since the oil boom in the 1970s Kuwait has witnessed a steady growth in the number of domestic helpers arriving to work in the country. They slowly became an indispensable part of Kuwaiti and many expatriate households. In some cases the maids, cooks and drivers were considered a part of the family and sharing the cultures and values.
Many women who worked as maids and cooks in homes not only cooked and cleaned but also helped in upbringing children of the household. Most of these domestic helpers were treated decently, paid regularly, enjoyed free time, and families back home reaped the benefits of their hard and diligent work in Kuwait.
After years of work, many were able to build their own houses, educate their children, and look after their aging parents. Several domestic helpers became an inseparable part of the household, earning the trust and goodwill of their employers, as well as help to get their children married off or to bring them over here and find them good jobs.
In the 1980s, as the country developed and people prospered, the maid culture became pervasive, and demand for household helpers grew exponentially. It was cost-effective and easy to recruit helpers, as the government made recruitment procedures simple, and as monitoring was lax many people were able to easily bypass the legal employment system.
As the demand for domestic helpers, agents and middle-men arrived on the scene and soon ‘maid recruitment’ became a lucrative big business. Unscrupulous agents were known to con people into coming to Kuwait with promises of high salaries and good jobs only to end up as household workers, sometimes in slave like living and working conditions.
Stories of abuse and maltreatment of household helpers soon began to emerge, as the country grappled with the issue unable to draw up proper legislation or even implement existing laws for the protection of these workers. Meanwhile, Kuwait continued to suffer from a loss of image on the international stage, as accusations of human rights violations piled up against the country. It is sad that just a few hundred dishonest brokers and unethical households were able to spoil the good reputation of Kuwait.
Several non-governmental organizations have over the past decades worked tirelessly to set right this exploitation and break the cycle of abuse taking place but with little success. Among the many initiatives undertaken ‘The One Roof Campaign’ stands out because of its attempt to improve the condition of domestic helpers in the country by raising awareness of their plight among the abuse perpetrators.
As many employers are unaware of the rights of domestic helpers, One Roof has been working to raise this awareness and build a positive relationship between the employer and domestic helpers, and to ensure the rights and dignity of both parties are protected. One Roof emphasises that domestic work is an occupation which needs to be regulated by laws and regulations.
The organization has released a legal guide detailing the laws that pertain specifically to domestic work and the regulations and bylaws that regulate them, as well as laws pertaining to residency, penal and procedural law, information on places where a person may raise a complaint, report an incident or ask for help and definitions of important terms. The legal guide is available in Arabic, English, Tagalog and Bengali languages, and is so far the most comprehensive material accessible to domestic helpers and their employers, which could hopefully make a difference.
As Kuwait marches ahead with the aim of attaining its 2035 vision, with laws to improve the business environment and attract foreign investments, as well as laws that clampdown on corruption and exploitation, a comprehensive domestic helper law is needed more than ever. Such a law along with a change in attitude of employers towards their domestic helpers will definitely ensure the 2035 vision remains on the right track.
- An Expatriat
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