Law to protect maids vowed

Law to protect maids vowed

Law to protect maids vowed



HOUSEMAIDS are to get legal protection, to stamp out the trade in human misery, including forced prostitution. A new labour law will regulate the working hours and living conditions of domestic staff such as housemaids, drivers, childminders and cooks, said Bahrain National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking head Shaikh Abdulaziz Mubarak Al Khalifa.

“We have a good labour law for the private sector that regulates working hours and pay of staff, but there is nothing to cover domestic staff,” Shaikh Abdulaziz told the GDN.

“So we felt something must come out.”

Shaikh Abdulaziz said there were about five to 10 human trafficking cases every month, usually among domestic workers who were either mistreated or forced into prostitution.

“If we have 50 cases a year – it’s still 50 cases too many, but in relation to the 500,000 foreign workers we have in Bahrain it is a small percentage that are mistreated,” said Shaikh Abdulaziz, who is also Foreign Ministry co-ordination and follow-up assistant under-secretary.

“There is no reason to justify this, but most problems lie in domestic staff and prostitution.”

Shaikh Abdulaziz was speaking on the eve of the Human Trafficking at the Crossroads Private-Public Partnership conference, which opens at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa at 9.30am today.

It is being held under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad’s wife and Supreme Council for Women chairperson Her Highness Shaikha Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

A reception for delegates was hosted at the Ritz-Carlton last night.

Shaikh Abdulaziz said the new domestic labour law would complement Bahrain’s anti-trafficking law which was enacted in January 2008.

This law includes a comprehensive definition of human trafficking; criminalises trafficking and sets out the prosecution measures; provides for the investigation and prosecution of offenders; and allocates resources for investigation of suspected cases.

Shaikh Abdulaziz said the first prosecution under the trafficking law was in December.

It involved an Asian woman who was bringing women from Asia and forcing them into prostitution.

He said she was jailed for three years and fined BD5,000, which was more than the minimum fine of BD3,000.

Shaikh Abdulaziz said Bahrain and the UAE were the only two countries in the Gulf to implement an anti-trafficking law.

He said Bahrain also had labour Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and looked forward to signing others with the Philippines and Thailand.

“To be fair to Bahrain, a lot of these problems start back in the workers’ home where they are forced to sign contracts which promise them lucrative jobs, but when they come to Bahrain they are forced to work in households for BD50 per month,” he said.

“And the employers often don’t know that the agents are recruiting under false pretences.”

With regard to human trafficking among free visa labourers, he said the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) was striving to have all workers registered legally.

In addition, Bahrain had given illegal workers amnesty periods and many had benefited.

However, he said, it was an uphill battle.

“We are not going to solve the problem until everyone is registered legally and with the right sponsor,” said Shaikh Abdulaziz.

He said human trafficking and prostitution was mainly amongst those being brought from Thailand to Bahrain.

“We have a problem with some Thai nationals who have the chance to come to Bahrain and get a visa at the airport and some people take advantage of this,” said Shaikh Abdulaziz.

“We need to be more firm and raise awareness in Thailand about human trafficking.”

Shaikh Abdulaziz said there were many hurdles and obstacles to overcome, because human trafficking was a very new and difficult subject and there was still a lack of public awareness.

“The problem is conveying the message to employers like those in the business sector on how workers’ rights have to be respected and we want to make it easy for employees to change their jobs if they give in their notice,” he explained.

“Mobility is important – but these employers don’t like this.

“There are people who enslave others, mistreat them, don’t pay them and don’t want them to work for anyone else, but if the worker has a choice, then the employer will think twice.

“The more we protect the rights of migrant workers the more expensive it will be to employ them and this will encourage them to hire a Bahraini.

Shaikh Abdulaziz said the Bahrain National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking comprised representative from all ministries, authorities and three civil societies who propose policy and facilitate its implementation through training programmes and co-operation with international organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

With the help of the IOM the national committee has conducted training programmes and workshops on combating human trafficking for government officials in all sectors, including the Justice and Interior ministries and Public Prosecution.

Following the enactment of an anti-trafficking law, the committee and the IOM held a nine-month programme for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement staff.

In addition, last month the committee and IOM held a workshop for police officers at the Royal Police Academy.

Shaikh Abdulaziz said the national committee also worked closely with NGOs that were working to combat human trafficking, including the Migrant Worker’s Protection Society, Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society and Bahrain Women’s Society, who were also members of the committee.

“Bahrain is serious about human trafficking and it’s an uphill battle,” explained Shaikh Abdulaziz.

“We treasure what migrant workers do in Bahrain, For more than 100 years they have been involved in the development of Bahrain and we shouldn’t allow people to take advantage of them.

“At the same time, we look to the migrant workers not to take advantage of Bahrain’s openness.”