Slavery is no longer legal anywhere in the world today. Yet, last week local media reported about a Saudi employer who offered his Sri Lankan housemaid for sale online. What is more appalling than an employer trying to sell his employee for 25,000 Saudi Riyal (around 0.9 million rupees) online is the apparent sluggishness of Sri Lankan authorities in taking necessary steps to prevent it. Although the incident is a serious violation of human rights and a violation of the contract signed when hiring a housemaid by a Saudi Employee, authorities in Sri Lanka have not taken action on the reported incident other than passing the ball on the responsibility.

Reports on this incident were extensively published on Emirates Twenty Four Seven website and Sabq newspaper following the advertisements published on several Saudi media houses citing that there is a Sri Lanka housemaid on sale. It was reported in Sabq newspaper that the employer had mentioned that he is seeking for another employer in the Gulf Kingdom wanting to end the contract with the 30-year-old maid who is ‘good in dealing with children’. It was also mentioned that she wanted to work for another employer in the Gulf Kingdom for one more year before returning to her home country.
“This is an act of extreme cruelty. No one can own another human being,” Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) President Faizer Mackeen said speaking to The Nation. “This goes against the human rights acts accepted internationally. It’s also illegal, even according to the Sharia law,” he added. He further explained that if a maid sent from Sri Lanka wants to terminate her contract with her employer, the maid or the employer must deal with it through the agency which the maid was hired from. “Termination at an event of contract violation or based on a mutual agreement the maid should be sent back to Colombo. If not, she can’t be sent to another employer, even if she is willing to,” Mackeen said.

He also said that this sort of incidents tarnish the reputation of the Saudi employers that it will make the Sri Lankan agencies further hesitant to send their maids to Saudi. “These matters where they fail to respect the employees should be considered seriously that they can later lead to more grave issues.” As he emphasized, maids sent abroad are not being educated on these aspects although they are been trained under many programs.  Mackeen lamented that he is yet to hear about any action taken by the local authorities on this matter. He pointed out that Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Ministry, Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE), Foreign Ministry as well as the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia should take responsibility in addressing the issue. “This delay could be due to the upcoming elections. However, this is an issue in need of prompt action, at least to safeguard our reputation,” he opined.

Former Parliamentarian and Former Deputy Minister of Social Services Ranjan Ramanayake commenting the new report said, “Unfortunately, this is not the first incident I came across and won’t be the last if we don’t stop sending housemaids to a country like Saudi Arabia.” He stressed that even countries like Bangladesh who are considered underdeveloped compared to Sri Lanka refrain from sending housemaids to Saudi as they have an ill-reputation in treating their workers. “It’s all right to send skilled workers who get to work in groups or for recognized companies. We have to stop sending housemaids to Saudi. We are disrespecting our female workers by sending them to Saudi,” he reiterated.

Rizana’s life
Ramanayake vehemently criticized the delayed action taken against the incident. “Wasn’t it our delays which cost us Rizana’s life?” he raised a question, referring to Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek, who was executed by Saudi authorities. “Do we need to more incidents like that to rethink sending housemaid aboard?”

After several failed attempts to contact Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Athukorala, The Nation contacted Foreign Employment Ministry Secretary, GS Withanage to inquire on the instruction given out regarding the matter. He said that he happened to read the new reports on this online advertisement and is aware that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given out instructions to take actions.

However, Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Mahishini Colonne said that the only action taken so far is requesting the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia to lodge a complaint against the man who attempted to sell a Sri Lankan housemaid online. Foreign Affairs Ministry failed to provide further updates about the process. Colonne further said that part of the responsibility in instructing the embassy as well as related agents lie on the hands of the Foreign Employment Ministry and the SLBFE.

The Nation’s attempts to contact SLBFE Media Spokesperson Mangala Randeniya also failed where as the SLBFE General Manager KODD Fernando refused to make a comment on the matter. However, an official from SLBFE said that they still haven’t discussed what needs to be done regarding the issue contradicting some news reports from last week stating the Foreign Employment Bureau is scheduled to educate the Foreign Ministry in connection with these advertisements and a detailed report would be called from the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Saudi Arabia.