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Epidemic Levels of Labor Abuse in Saudi Arabia with execution of Rizana Nafeek

A 24 year old Sri Lankan domestic worker by the name of Rizana Nafeek was publicly beheaded last week with a sword in Dawadmi, Saudi Arabia. Nafeek was only 17 years old when the 4 month old baby who was left in her care died. Nafeek claimed that the baby died after accidentally choking on the milk she was feeding him while her employer charged her with deliberately choking the infant to death. Although Nafeek signed a confession, she later said it was done under duress and unequivocally claimed her innocence until her execution.

Nafeek, whose birth certificate showed that she was a minor at the time of the alleged crime, had a passport forged by her recruiting agency which stated her age as 23. Tried without proper legal representation, she was unable to fight the charges against her. Since the execution, the Sri Lankan Government has raised the minimum age for women wanting to work as domestic workers outside the country from 21 to 25.

The Gulf region attracts millions of foreign migrant workers from South and East Asia including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. But migrant worker abuse is epidemic. In 2011 thousands of complaints were filed with Asian embassies recounting instances of slave labor and 100 plus hour work weeks.

The Nepalese Government finally stopped allowing women under the age of 30 to work in Gulf Arab nations. And currently Indonesian citizens are completely barred from working in Saudi Arabia. In 2010 at least 27 migrant workers were executed in Saudi Arabia and, according to Amnesty International there are currently more than 45 foreign domestic workers on death row with improper legal recourse in a country which conducts all their legal proceedings solely in Arabic.

While the United Nations has issued a statement denouncing Rizana Nafeekā€™s beheading, the US Government which considers Saudi Arabia a staunch ally has remained silent.

GUEST: Bayan Perazzo, writer and university lecturer in Saudi Arabia

Click here to read Bayan Perazzo’s article.