Written by Mahmoud Ahmad

It is just unbelievable that modern day slavery exists in some families, not all. Some families in the Kingdom believe that it is their right to treat the domestic helps as they wish as if they own them body and soul after paying for their visas.

Sometimes seeing the way they treat domestic helps, known as maids or servants, is beyond belief as they impose tasks that are totally downgrading to the maids and sometimes depriving them of their right as human beings. They will eat only when they are told to eat. They will sleep only when the master tells them to sleep. They will speak when the master tells them to speak. How different is that from slavery?

There are many horrifying stories of maids being abused by their sponsors, whether Saudi or expatriates sponsors, in the Kingdom. While there are cases of maids running away after all the troubles that their sponsors had undergone is another story. For here we are dealing with the inhumane treatment of maids by sponsors.

Many sponsors take advantage of the maids’ poor situation and their need for money to abuse them and enslave them. What is more alarming is that such cases of abuse are on the rise and there is no sign of increasing awareness among such families on how to treat their maids nicely. While the reported cases of maid abuse are on the rise, what is increasing alarming is that many such cases go unreported — and in greater number.

I am sure that if the maid has a choice she would definitely decide not to come to Saudi Arabia and work as a household help. I am sure that if she has the courage to speak against the inhumane treatment from her sponsor without the fear of retaliation, she will speak out. Often she is forced to suffer in silence because she has a family back home in need of her financial support, and to meet that need she has to endure the abuses in silence. Silence becomes a virtue if they are paid on time.

Maids are extremely important in every household. Families are totally dependent on them, especially for a wife who needs help to carry out the daily household chores. But how many of these maids who come to work for families know their job descriptions? It is agreed upon that maids are supposed to work for certain hours in a day, carrying out known tasks within her ability.

But most families ignore this job description that they themselves had agreed upon and overburden the maids with additional tasks, including taking care of infants. They work for long hours without rest, and are not given a day off. Some families treat them like machines and load them with improbable tasks while expecting them to finish their work quickly.

I remember some of the sad stories relayed to me by maids. A maid from Indonesia said she was locked up for more than three months in an apartment and was forced to work non-stop for 15 hours a day. The poor maid was given only half a sandwich a day for meal. The family forced her to sleep in the balcony since there was no room available in the apartment. For three months she was not paid. She endured all that in the hope that she would be paid later. But when she felt that she would be short-changed, she planned her escape and fled while the family was asleep by climbing down from the balcony.

Another maid told me that her employer did not pay her for eight months. His reason was to keep her salary as insurance so that she would not escape, which is totally unjust because she had a family back home to feed. If he was concerned, he could have sent the money back home himself but he did not, which betrayed the dark side of his heart.

When she got sick and tired of being unfairly treated, he paid her salary for three months and then asked her to look for another sponsor, practically leaving her in the lurch, while exploiting her inability to find a new sponsor in a quick time. I have also heard of cases wherein a maid face sexual abuse from her sponsor and his sons.

I remember one maid who was found wandering on the street barefoot and crying, with bruises all over her body. She had escaped from her sponsor who had repeatedly beat her and even accused her of stealing while her sponsor had not paid her a single halalah. A Saudi family gave her shelter until the police came to take her and settle the issue. There are many other stories of abuse — too many to relate.

Ironically, it is our treatment of maids that have caused the current problems with countries refusing to send their women to work as maids in the Kingdom. Ironically, it is our maltreatment of maids that gave gangs the opportunity to entice maids to run away from their sponsors and to work illegally for new employers.

Maids have feelings, they have dignity and they have pride. Their silence toward abuse only means one thing: they need the job and the money so they can feed their families back home. They deserve mercy and good treatment like they are an extended part of the family.

There are good Saudi sponsors who treat their maids well like they were part of their own families. And they reaped rich rewards when their maids reciprocate their kindness. They give their maids the right amount and kind of food, not leftovers, allowed them to call their families back home and allowed them a day off a week. Most of all maids are required to work only for eight hours a day and carry out talks specified in their contracts. The maids then give their total loyalty to the families they are serving.
Since maids are living in the same house with the family, they should be treated as an additional member of the family. They should be given good food, not overworked and should be given a decent salary that matches the work they are doing. They should be provided with good accommodation and good medical care. If these are followed, I do not see any conflict arising between the sponsors and their maids. I also believe that this will dry up the black market for maids if the sponsors take some good measures in providing dignity to their maids.

Treat them nicely and do not abuse them, verbally or physically, and forgive and teach them if they make a mistake. How many of us do that? Let’s start doing it. A small hand of humanity from our side will go a long way in sustaining the relationship. Let’s try it out and see the results.

Article written by Mahmoud Ahmad for Saudi Gazette