UN expert urges Kuwait to redouble efforts to stop trafficking, exploiting domestic workers
While welcoming Kuwait’s commitment to fight trafficking in persons, a United Nations human rights expert today urged the Government to further strengthen its assistance and support measures for trafficked and exploited domestic workers, adopt prevention measures, and fully protect their rights.
“Migrants in irregular situations, including some refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons who work informally in the Kuwaiti economy are at risk of trafficking for both labour and sexual exploitation,” the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, said in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), domestic workers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.
They work for private households, often without clear terms of employment, unregistered in any book, and excluded from the scope of labour legislation. Their work may include tasks such as cleaning the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, or elderly or sick members of a family, gardening, guarding the house, driving for the family, and even taking care of household pets.
The expert noted that victims of trafficking in Kuwait are foreigners who are, for the most, trafficked for forced labour and labour exploitation including domestic servitude.
Ms. Giammarinaro said they flee their employers due to deception about the type and conditions of employment by recruitment agencies in countries of origin, and exploitation by their sponsors and employers in Kuwait. “Some domestic workers have been forced into prostitution,” she added.
The expert welcomed Kuwait’s determination to counter domestic servitude, which would otherwise be completely hidden, as it happens in many countries of the world.
“The establishment of two shelters, that have to date received more than 7,000 domestic workers fleeing their employers, shows a real commitment in this field and is a benchmark in the region and beyond,” she stated. “This accomplishment is even more significant given that exploitation of domestic workers is prevalent in the region.”
Ms. Giammarinaro encouraged the Government and institutions of Kuwait to continue in this direction, and redouble efforts to better prevent trafficking and protect its victims, and called on the Government to address existing gaps, and offer real alternatives to deportation when people are not willing to return, including by dropping existing charges filed by their employers against them.
The expert drew special attention to the sponsorship (Kafala) system, which binds every worker to an employer as a sponsor, and creates a situation of vulnerability which favours abusive and exploitative work relationships leading to human trafficking in the domestic work and in other sectors such as construction.
She urged the Kuwait authorities to abolish and replace the Kafala system to allow migrant workers to enjoy substantial freedom in the labour market.
The expert also encouraged the Government to place domestic work, which is currently overseen by the Ministry of Interior, under the competence of the Ministry of Labour and the Public Authority for Manpower. “This will recognise the equal rights of domestic workers,” she highlighted.
During her visit to Kuwait City from 4 to 8 September, Ms. Giammarinaro met with representatives of various government agencies, the judiciary, the Kuwait Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies, as well as representatives of civil society, UN agencies, international organisations and the diplomatic community.
The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.