Africans are in slavery in Middle East

Levina Mapenzi Ngolo was mistreated as a maid in the Majmaah town of Riyadh City in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [File, Standard]

Hundreds of young women have been rushing to the Middle East countries for household jobs. The salaries range between $100 and $500.

Despite the horror stories of victims, hordes of African women still flock to recruitment agencies to sign up in pursuit of dreams of a better life in foreign land.

Slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) until 1963.

It is unsurprising, therefore that contract slavery of domestic servants continues to thrive in much of the Persian Gulf, where local economies prosper on the immigration of foreign workers.

Because slavery is illegal, slave-holders often use contracts as a means to legitimate and disguise the practice.

In order for a migrant to work in Saudi Arabia, she/he must first secure a visa through a method of sponsorship known as kafala, which legally binds the worker to her employer.

Although both the sponsor and worker are capable of breaking contract, this ostensible equality is merely a ruse, because if the worker breaks her contract, she must pay the cost of her return ticket, a charge that would have otherwise been paid by the sponsor.

There are more than 2.8 million women employed as maids in the Middle East under the kafala system.

Thousands of these workers have reported cases of overworking, violence, sexual abuse, and cruelty. In light of labour exploitation cases, some countries issued bans on their citizens going to work in Middle East countries.

Yet this has only fueled the irregular recruitment market, where migrants are particularly at risk of trafficking.

Lacking documentation and in a foreign country, migrant domestic workers find themselves under the charge of their employer.

Because Middle Eastern households often consist of extended families, work can be arduous. Without international pressure, exploitation of migrant domestics is certain to persist. 

Ndirangu Ngunjiri, Nairobi.