Skooter reports 01/013/13
Rizana Nafeek was a child yet when she migrated from Sri Lanka to be a domestic worker for a Saudi family. According to her birth certificate, she was 17 years old. Only weeks earlier a four-month-old baby died in her care in Saudi Arabia.
Though Rizana claimed that the baby died in a choking accident, Saudi courts nevertheless convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. The Saudi government on Wednesday, proceeded with the sentence in a ghastly fashion, by beheading Rizana.
From the beginning, Rizana's case was rampant with problems. A Sri-Lankan recruitment agency knew in the first place, she was legally too young to migrate, but she had falsified papers to say she was 23. Following the baby’s death, Rizana gave a confession that she claimed was made under duress or pressure, she later withdrew it. Having no lawyer to defend her and no competent interpreter during her trial, she was sentenced to death. Her sentence violated international law, which prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18.
Rizana's fate should stir up international outrage. But it should also draw attention to the shaky existence of other domestic workers. There are about 1.5 million workers in Saudi Arabia alone and more than 50 million mostly women and girls are employed worldwide according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Since the 1990s, the number of domestic workers worldwide has mounted by more than 50%, according to the ILO. Like Rizana, many seek employment in foreign countries where they may be ignorant with the language, unaware of its legal system and have few rights.
Rizana may have no knowledge when she traveled to Saudi Arabia, for example, many Saudi employers take possession of domestic workers' passports and lock them up or detain them inside their home, cutting them off from the outside world and sources of help.
It is not likely that anyone ever told her about Saudi Arabia's faulty criminal justice system or that while many domestic workers are lucky enough to find kind employers who treat them well, others are mandated to work for months or even years without pay and subjected to physical or sexual abuse.
For migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, their conditions are among some of the most horrible, but domestic workers in other countries hardly ever enjoy the same rights as other workers. Nearly 30% of the world’s domestic workers are totally excluded from national labor laws, according to latest report from the International Labor Organization. They usually earn only 40% of the average wage of other workers and while forty-five percent aren't even entitled by law to a weekly day off.
Many governments nowadays have eventually recognized the risks and exploitation domestic workers face. In the previous year 2012, dozens of countries took measures to strengthen protections for domestic workers. Like for example Thailand, and Singapore give domestic workers a weekly day off, while Venezuela and the Philippines ensures domestic workers a minimum wage, paid holidays, and limits to their working hours. Brazil amended its constitution to state that domestic workers have all the same rights as other workers. Bahrain has put access in code to mediate labor disputes.
Perchance most appreciably, eight countries acted in 2012 to approve and therefore be legally obliged by the Domestic Workers Convention, with more ready to follow suit this year. The convention is a pioneering treaty espoused in 2011 to ensure domestic workers the same protections available to other workers, including weekly days off, effective complaints procedures and protection from violence. It has also specific protections for domestic workers who are minors under the age of 18 and requirements for regulating and monitoring recruitment agencies. All governments should approved or ratify the convention.
To prevent another tragic case like that of Rizana Nafeek, many reforms are needed. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries worldwide to execute people for crimes committed while a child and it is evident to stop its use of the death penalty and end its outlier status.
Also critically important are Labor reforms. The recruitment of a 17 year old for migration abroad may have been prevented in the first place. And they can protect millions of other domestic workers who labor with dangerously few assurances for their safety and rights.