|Lebanon has arrested a man suspected of putting a Nigerian housemaid up “for sale” on Facebook. / Photo by: Allmy via Shutterstock|
Lebanon has arrested a man suspected of putting a Nigerian housemaid up “for sale” on Facebook, reports news platform Al Jazeera.
The Lebanon General Security agency, which controls the entry and exit of people from the small Mediterranean countries, arrested the suspect said that the investigation is underway and warned that anyone who advertises people online will be a violation of human trafficking laws and it will subject the wrongdoer to prosecution.
It was Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem who ordered the judiciary to follow up on the case. Her Excellency Najem also cited the country’s anti-human trafficking law and called it a “blatant violation of human dignity.” A statement was also released by the country’s Ministry of Labor, saying that any person who advertises domestic workers online will be prosecuted.
Nigerians expressed their outrage
Officials in Nigeria soon after requested the Lebanese authorities to further investigate the incident and many Nigerians expressed their anger on social media. Twitter user Semiu Okanlawon asked where the Lebanese man is currently being held. “I want to buy him and his entire family back in Lebanon,” the Twitter user said.
Translating the Arabic language posted on social media by the Lebanese suspect, another Twitter user Kristy said that the Nigerian woman was put up for sale at the rate of $1,000. She then asked the lawmakers if they can help find the lady and bring her back to the country. The Facebook ad also reads that the woman is 30 years old, “very clean”, “very active,” and with new legal documents.
Slavery in the 21st century
About 250,000 migrant domestic workers are residing in Lebanon. Most of these workers are from the sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana and Ethiopia, and Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Nepal. These domestic workers are legally bound to their employers through the kafala system.
|About 250,000 migrant domestic workers are residing in Lebanon. / Photo by: Dean Drobot via Shutterstock|
The kafala system
The kafala system, which is referred to as the sponsorship system, is used to monitor the migrant workers working primarily in the domestic and construction sectors. Under the said system, workers can only end their work contracts upon obtaining the consent of their employers. However, the system has led to abuse, such as withholding workers’ wages and sexual and physical assault. Lebanon’s former labor minister Camille Abousleiman has called the system a form of “modern-day slavery.”
Although the Ministry of Labor of Lebanon is working to enhance the protection of domestic workers in the country by amending the contract between the employers and the workers, experts comment that abuse will continue because the kafala system still exists.
Amnesty International’s Lebanon campaigner Diala Haidar told the daily that it is a “step forward” for Lebanon to adopt a revised contract that will address the shortcomings. However, “it is not enough.” She added that domestic workers do not enjoy the same labor protections afforded to other workers under the labor law. These labor protections include compensation from unfair dismissal, overtime pay, social security, and minimum wage. Haidar sees the need for the amendment of Lebanon’s labor law to recognize the rights of the domestic workers as workers in the country and grant them the full labor protections they need.
Two domestic workers died every week in Lebanon in 2017, according to General Security. Some videos circulate online of domestic workers attempting to escape the houses of their employers by climbing down high structures but they are also often found dead because of it.
The case of Faustina Tay
Ghanaian domestic worker Faustina Tay, 23, was also found dead last month. Her body was found in a car park in Beirut under the fourth-story home of her employers. Stories appeared that while at work, she did not have her room but slept on a sofa in the kitchen. She also complained that she had no days off, was overworked, and often was only able to sleep at 2 am and had to wake up at 8 am.
In the week before her death, Tay sent dozens of voice messages and texts detailing the beatings done by her Lebanese employers. She said that she’ was scared. She said, “they might kill me” and “I don’t want to die here.”
UK-based international non-governmental organization Anti-Slavery International said they have no words to describe the situation. “This is just awful.” Yet, it is also all too common for girls and women working in private homes and held behind closed doors without protection.
It appears that Tay sought the help of This is Lebanon, a small volunteer-based firm in Canada run by a group of former domestic workers and activists who are seeking the protection of migrant domestic workers abroad. "Let every Lebanese take a good, hard look at Faustina," Patricia of This is Lebanon said. She was the worker on Tay's case.
Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon
The International Labor Organization’s Regional Office for Arab States shares that there are more than 170,000 migrant domestic workers (MDW) in Lebanon and these workers either have Asian or African nationalities.
Based on demographics, most domestic workers are relatively young with an average age of 29 and they have lived in Lebanon for 5 years average. About 80% of these domestic workers have worked only for one employer since they arrived in the country and more than 40% of them have dependent children in their home countries. Before coming to Lebanon, around 60% of MDWs were unemployed while 30% were unskilled workers.
About 46% of MDWs in Lebanon come from Ethiopia, 23% from Bangladesh, 16% from the Philippines, 8% from Sri Lanka, 3% from Nepal, and 4% from African countries.
Three-quarters of MDWs were recruited to Lebanon through an agency in their home countries and only 60% of them said they were able to read and understand the contracts they signed into. About 50% of the MDWs complained that their papers were held by their employers against their wishes and their average salary is US$180, with significantly international discrepancies.
As for work conditions, MDWs in Lebanon work for an average of 10.5 hours every day. Only half of them reported receiving breaks they needed in the day.
The effort to make Lebanese households understand the status of MDWs in their country as capable adults entitled to the same rights as they do should be acknowledged.