A woman domestic worker in Saudi Arabia nailed 24 times

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

(August 25, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mrs. L.T. Ariyawathi (49), a mother of three has returned from Saudi Arabia after less than five months of employment. Within a short time of her return she was hospitalized for an operation to remove 24 nails from her foot and a needle implanted by her employer. Doctors who x-rayed her at Kamburupitiya hospital have identified these items and are preparing to operate in order to remove them.

Mrs. Ariyawathie explained to the doctors about the manner in which husband and the wife of the family she went to serve as a domestic helper punished her after some house hold glass items fell from her hand. While the wife held her tightly the husband implanted the burning hot iron nails in her foot. On a separate occasion the wife implanted a needle in her forehead.

After this inhuman treatment she was able to send messages to her family who intervened with the Sri Lankan authorities who assisted the family to bring her back. Mrs. Ariyawathie went for employment in March this year and returned on August 21, a period of less than five months. Her story has received wide publicity in the newspapers and the media.

There is a large number of women domestic workers employed in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East who have complained of many kinds of harassments. Many of them have sought the help of the Sri Lankan diplomatic services to be returned to their country. Many who have returned speak of harassments they have suffered and the inadequacy of the services offered by the Sri Lankan authorities to assist them. Despite of many such complaints made over many years the Sri Lankan government and the relevant authorities have done very little to provide the necessary services to domestic workers.

The government depends on these domestic workers for much of the foreign exchange needed for the country. The government is also reluctant to raise the issue of security and well being of their workers for the fear of losing opportunities by demonstrating a concern over such incidents. Over the years there had been very little progress in providing security for them.

Mrs. Ariyawathie’s situation raises many questions of law as well as compensation for such severe injuries. As for law, the local employers in these countries are hardly ever prosecuted for their severe criminal acts against domestic workers. The victims are too poor and powerless to pursue such complaints and the Sri Lankan government will not pursue these matters for fearing of losing business opportunities.

Mr. Artiyawathie is entitled to compensation for her physical and psychological injuries. It is duty of the government of Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia to ensure that she receives such compensation. Civil Society organizations in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries should come to assistance of such victims. Sri Lankan civil society organizations and women's organizations should pursue such cases vigorously to highlight the issue of the welfare of domestic workers.