Sri Lanka will gradually stop allowing women to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia after a Sri Lankan was executed in the country over the death of an infant in her care, the Colombo government said.
The government said it would raise the minimum age for female domestic workers to be eligible to seek employment in Saudi Arabia to 25 years from the present 21 with an eye on eventually stopping such employment altogether.
“Gradual phase-out is the idea,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said. “We can’t stop it overnight. It’s a gradual process and increasing the age limit is part of that.”
Colombo recalled its envoy to Saudi Arabia in response to the beheading on January 9 of Rizana Nafeek, who was sentenced to death in 2007 accused of killing her employer’s daughter while she was bottle-feeding.
A third of the two million Sri Lankan maids working abroad are in Saudi Arabia, according to the country’s foreign employment bureau.
Many households in the Middle East are highly dependent on housemaids from African and South Asian countries.
In some cases of reported domestic abuse, maids have attacked the children of their employers after they were mistreated themselves.
In the case of Nafeek, the Saudi interior ministry said, the infant was strangled after a dispute between her and the baby’s mother.
Rights groups have criticised the beheading and Saudi Arabia’s handling of the case. In a statement before the execution, Amnesty International said that it appeared Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or at her trial in 2007.