Female workers returning from Saudi Arabia say they suffered backbreaking working hours and sexual abuse.
A criminal court in Saudi Arabia has handed the death sentence to a Saudi woman for killing her Bangladeshi maid in a ruling rights groups say was a rare example of an employer being found guilty of abusing a migrant worker in the Middle East country.
Ayesha al-Jizani was sentenced on Sunday to death by the court for killing Abiron Begum in March 2019, some two years after Begum went to the Gulf state in search of better paid work, a Bangladeshi government official said.
Begum’s relatives urged the Bangladeshi government to take action against the brokers who “tricked” Begum, 40, into taking the job in Saudi Arabia four years ago.
“(She) wanted to go abroad to earn more money so that she could pay for her aged parents,” Ayub Ali, Begum’s brother-in-law, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They started torturing her two weeks after she left. She would call us and cry … we begged the brokers here to bring her back, but no one listened to us.
I praise Saudi government for giving out this rare yet exemplary punishment.
Jizani’s husband was jailed for three years for failing to help Begum access medical treatment and making her work outside the family home illegally, confirmed Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, a senior official at Bangladesh’s expatriate ministry.
Jizani’s son was sent to a juvenile facility for seven months, Saleheen added.
Campaigners said the Saudi court’s verdict against an employer was unusual.
“I have been working in the migration field for several years and I have never heard of such a verdict,” said Shakirul Islam, the head of the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, which deals with migrant rights in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen welcomed the verdict. “I praise Saudi government for giving out this rare yet exemplary punishment.”
The minister also urged the Saudi government to investigate other cases of abuses and torture carried out on domestic workers from Bangladesh.
More than 300,000 Bangladeshi female workers have travelled to Saudi Arabia since 1991 but many of them return with stories of abuse and exploitation.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) employers confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrants to work against their will. Workers who leave their employer without their consent can be charged with “absconding” and face imprisonment and deportation, HRW said.
In the last five years, nearly 70 Bangladeshi female workers died in Saudi Arabia, more than 50 of them committing suicide.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s top exporters of labour and depends heavily on the remittances they send home to relatives.
Prior to the pandemic, about 700,000 Bangladeshis used to travel abroad for jobs annually, with Saudi Arabia being the top destination despite having one of the highest recruitment fees for migrant jobseekers from the South Asian nation.
Labour rights activists say the fee, which is often paid through a network of unofficial brokers, opens the door to exploitation and trafficking.
Faisal Mahmud contributed to the report from Dhaka