Abused foreign maids die each week in Lebanon

Elias Kifle | August 27th, 2008

Foreign maids in Lebanon are committing
suicide to escape cruel employers,
says HRW. [Photo: AFP]

(AFP) — Foreign maids are dying each week in Lebanon often by committing suicide to escape bad treatment by their employers, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week,” said Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at HRW, in the second damning report since April on the working conditions of foreign workers in Lebanon. “These suicides are linked to the isolation and the difficult working conditions these workers face in Lebanon,” including financial pressure due to earning below minimum wages, Houry said in the report.

According to HRW around 200,000 domestic labourers, mostly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Ethiopia, are not protected by Lebanese labour laws.

Most of those who take their own lives or “risk their lives trying to escape” from the high-rise apartment buildings where they are employed, are women.

HRW said that at least 24 housemaids have died since January 2007 after falling from multi-storey buildings.

“Many domestic workers are literally being driven to jump from balconies to escape their forced confinement,” Houry said.

Interviews conducted by HRW with embassy officials and friends of domestic workers who committed suicide “suggest that forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse and financial pressures are key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives”.

Human Rights Watch urged the Lebanese authorities to guarantee the workers “the right to move freely, to work in decent conditions, to communicate with their friends and families, and to earn a living wage”.

It specifically asked the authorities to track down cases of deaths linked to suicide or other unnatural causes and “properly investigate them”.

“The high death toll of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, from unnatural causes, shows the urgent need to improve their working conditions,” HRW said.