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Report/Press release

Exported and Exposed Abuses against Sri Lankan Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates




Over 125, 000 Sri Lankan women migrate to the Middle East as domestic workers each year. Their earnings have made a significant contributions to the Sri Lankan economy, yet many migrant women resort to this survival strategy at profound personal cost. Unscrupulous labor agents and subagents in Sri Lanka often charge illegal exorbitant recruitment fees and decieve women about their propsective jobs. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), labor laws excluded domestic workers, who are typically confined to the workplace and labor for excessively long hours for little pay. In some cases, employers or labor agents subject domestic workers to physical abuse, sexual abuse, or forced labor. While current figure likely underestimate the scale of abust, the Sri Lankan government reports that 50 migrant domestic workers return to Sri Lanka “in distress” each day, abd embassies abroad are flooded with workers complaining of upaid wages sexual harassment, and overwork.
Media have carried out the horrific abuse. Depite, this awareness, the government of Sri Lankan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the UAE hav failed to exented even standard labor protections to these workers. Sri Lanka has yet to rein in a competitive and corrupt recruitment industry, and has not created adequate support services or effective complaint mechanisms for abused workers. The countries of employment have balked at guaranteering rights that all other workers enjoy, including rest days, limits on working hours, and in some countries , a minimum wage.
The Sri Lankan government’s policies havei mproved over recent years and it deserves credit for initiating important steps to manage the outflow of migrant workers and to start providing protections. The government of Sri Lanka set up an insititonal structure, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), in 1985 to esnure workers migratn through legal channels, minimize corruption and exploitation by recruitment agencies, and facilitate the flow of workers’ remittances. Yet significant gaps in protection remain.

Document number


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Responsible institution

Human Rights Watch

File Attachments



Domestic Workers, Abuse, Middle-East

Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work, Home child care providers, and Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations

Content types

Policy analysis, Documented cases of abuse, and Support initiatives

Target groups

Policymakers, Public awareness, Researchers, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

China, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan

Spheres of activity

Economics, Law, Psychology, and Sociology