Virtual Slaves

JAKARTA, July 8, 2008 (AFP) – Saudi Arabian families are abusing female migrant workers to the point of slavery and Riyadh needs to respond with sweeping labour and justice reforms, a major rights group said Tuesday. US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report released in Indonesia, the home country of thousands of female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, that in the worst cases the women were “treated like virtual slaves.”

“In the best cases, migrant women in Saudi Arabia enjoy good working conditions and kind employers, and in the worst they’re treated like virtual slaves. Most fall somewhere in between,” said Nisha Varia, the group’s senior women’s rights researcher.

The 133-page report entitled “‘As If I Am Not Human?: Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia,” was compiled after two years of research and 142 interviews with domestic workers, officials, and labour recruiters in Saudi Arabia and the workers’ countries of origin, the group said.

It concluded that few of the abusers were ever brought to justice and migrant women who dared to complain risked counter-charges of adultery, witchcraft or moral degradation.

Witchcraft and “moral” crimes such as being in the presen