Bangladesh yesterday called for a migrant domestic worker to be repatriated from Saudi Arabia following a tearful video which went viral, alleging sexual abuse at the hands of her Saudi employers.
In footage on Facebook, Sumi Akter describes the “merciless sexual assaults” which she suffered. “I perhaps won’t live longer. Please save me. They locked me up for 15 days and barely gave me any food. They burned my hands with hot oil,” the 25-year-old said. The video has prompted protests in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka against the plight of Asian workers abroad.
The government called on Akter to be brought back home “as soon as possible”, while her husband, Sirajul Islam, told AFP he had been “trying to get her back but couldn’t”.
Government spokesman Atiqur Rahman said Dhaka would crackdown on rogue recruitment firms amid allegations that they abused female workers and sold them to other brokers. But Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen said on Thursday that his government would not ban women from going to Saudi Arabia for work.
Akter’s video comes after the body of migrant worker Nazma Begum was repatriated in late October. The 42-year-old Begum called her son Rajib Hossain repeatedly before her death, asking to be rescued and alleging torture, he told AFP, adding that she died of an untreated illness.
Since 1991, some 300,000 Bangladeshi women have travelled to the Gulf nation to work, according to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare.
In Gulf states, domestic work is the largest sector of employment for female migrants, driven by a higher standard of living since the 1970s oil boom and increasing female workforce participation among nationals. Even so, female domestic workers are perhaps the least protected workers, facing legal, institutional and societal barriers to basic securities. The kafala system, in which foreign workers must be sponsored by an employer, renders domestic workers unable to escape abusive situations until their contract expires, at risk of being reported to authorities and subsequently fined, jailed or deported.