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No solution for Lankan women suffering in Saudi Arabia

Monday 30 November 2015, by siawi3


by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Usually it’s the women, who are found guilty, that are put to death by stoning. Such punishments are not uncommon in countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq
Domestic workers or ‘house maids’ as they are commonly called are the expatriates who bring in the bulk of foreign revenue to the country. There is a large number of domestic workers employed overseas and they are faced with numerous challenges and problems. In the recent past, a number of incidents that had taken place testify to the sad fate of these domestic workers who toil day and night in foreign lands, both men and women alike.

The following story is one of the latest tragedies that show that certain measures have to be taken andthey must be implemented soon.
The story The Sunday Leader highlights today is reported from Saudi Arabia, a popular destination for Sri Lankan expatriates, but an equally dangerous territory. The incident is a clear testament to the brutality that is exercised in Saudi Arabia on these helpless women. Even today,the family members of this helpless housemaid are still unaware of her fate.
As a responsible media, considering the emotional and social effect this brings upon her children and other members of the family, The Sunday Leaderwould not disclose all the information related to this incident.
The woman, who underwent this brutality, is a mother of three residing in the Maradana area. A Buddhist, she decided to go seek employment in Saudi Arabia to solve the economic hardships faced by her family. With the help of a foreign employment agency in Maradana she was able find a job in Saudi Arabia as a housemaid in 2013.
We do not possess adequate evidence to prove all what she had experienced during her stay in that country. However, according to reports,in 2014 she was arrested for allegedly committing adultery. After a trial that had commenced on March 9, 2014, the decision was made on April 29 this year finding her guilty for the charge. Accordingly, it has been decided by the country’s court that she should be put to death by stoning. Her alleged ‘partner in crime’, who is also a Sri Lankan youth, has been given the sentence of 100 lashes. According to reports, it is said that during the trial she had confessed of committing adultery four times.
It is possible this woman had hidden the truth from her family as she might not have wanted to cause further pain to her loved ones. Maybe did not wish her family to bear the burden of her fault and that she had not wanted them to suffer insult from the society. On the other hand, she might have concealed the truth in fear of her husband.
However, she has told her husband that she had fled from her house due to the unbearable living conditions and that she had been captured by the police. Words could not describe the feelings her husband might have felt as he had heard of this terrible news. And unaware of any further details, he has sought the help of the Foreign Employment Bureau by lodging a complaint that his wife has been arrested by the Saudi police while she was on the run after fleeing from her work station.
Even today, her husband and the three children are waiting to see their beloved wife and mother return home with the precious goodies she had hoped to find abroad. The hope of seeing her back safe in our shores has not yet eluded them, as she had followed all the required rules and procedures when travelling overseas for employment. But the problem that has arisen is the charge of committing adultery during her stay in the country and proven against her. And as a result she has ended up in a Saudi prison.
As the news reached Sri Lanka, it was subjected to many discussions in the country. And due to the sensitivity of the matter, the Ministry of Foreign Employment, the Foreign Employment Bureau, the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia have attempted to seek solutions for this issue. The main objective of the state officials was to make a diplomatic intervention to free this woman from suffering the cruel fate of being stoned to death.
Initially, the Foreign Ministry claimed that the Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh had forwarded an appeal to the Saudi Court of Appeal pleading to remove the death sentence on humanitarian grounds. Accordingly, the legal fee of Rs. 305,000 that was due for presenting the appeal on behalf of the woman was borne by the Foreign Ministry. The money has already been dispatched to the Saudi embassy in Sri Lanka. Hence, the government is engaged is an attempt to her free from her cruel fate.
The most recent similar incident reported is the tragic fate suffered by Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan girl, who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia. Although the Sri Lankan government made a similar attempt to save her from being beheaded, the Saudi officials were stern on enforcing the Sharia law upon her.
Death by stoning is considered as one of the most primitive and barbaric methods of punishments in the world. Such punishments are still being exercised in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Usually it’s the women, who are accused of committing adultery, that are put to death by stoning. According to Islam, adultery is a grievous sin that deserves severe punishment for both men and women. Accordingly, the devotees of the religion believe that such sinners would be stoned to death. Such incidents are not uncommon in countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq.
After declaring the verdict by the religious court, the convict is usually half buried up to the head or the waist. Afterwards, anyone could come to the place and throw stones at the convict. This is a terribly painful death for a human, who succumbs to the wounds in about 20 minutes. Although, these punishments are not unfamiliar for Muslims living in such countries, the problem here is that the person who is about to experience this punishment is a Sri Lankan woman. Similar barbaric punishments such as burning, forcing to swallow iron nails and cutting off limbs are also seen in the Sharia Law. Such punishments have been exercised on Sri Lankan expatriates as well. Especially, such incidents are mainly heard from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The problem we have faced is the need to take action to prevent these tragic incidents from taking place in the future. Instead of seeking humanitarian ways of relief, time has come to look for a more permanent solution to ensure the safety of our expatriates working abroad. The number of Sri Lankans who have gone abroad as domestic workers isover 300,000 at present. According to statistics in 2014, many of them have travelled to Middle Eastern countries. However, when analyzing the statistics, we can see a decline in people going to these countries as domestic workers.
In other countries such as India and Philippines, due to the harsh treatments in Saudi Arabia, governments have decided not to send any housemaids to the country. Hence, there is a good demand for such employees in Saudi Arabia with interesting salaries. Usually a domestic worker receives around 4-5 lakhs per annum in Saudi Arabia. And for poverty ridden women in Sri Lanka, that is an amount worth risking their lives. However, the number of domestic workers who had gone abroad in 2014, which amounted to 300,000, has now declined to 219,223 this year.
Yet, the authorities in both countries have failed to provide a lasting solution for the problems faced by Sri Lankan domestic workers serving in Saudi Arabia and in the Middle East in general. For a long time, the officials only wanted to sustain the flow and not to interfere. Last year, the quota system introduced by Minister Dilan Perera on foreign employment agencies in sending domestic workers abroad had grounded to a halt due to constant objections. Later, the government tried to implement laws banning women who have children less than five years of age from going abroad as domestic workers.
However, this has caused these women to seek employment in Middle East by bypassing the law. It is alleged that some mothers are even selling their children at the airport to the ‘Sahana Piyasa’. There is nothing these mothers refrain from doing to provide food for their families. These are only a fraction of openly known secrets in this trade. Our expatriates still risk their lives in playing with fire. In addition, for us Sri Lankan Sinhalese Buddhists, the concepts of Sharia law is still unknown. Usually the FEB provides a 21-day training program to housemaids regarding their domestic responsibilities.
But still they are not well informed of the Saudi Laws. If the government is unable to stop sending our women to Saudi Arabia, at least steps must be taken to limit the vacancies for Muslim women. The time has come to change the existing system. If not we would have to weep for our women suffering in these countries for many more years.

SRI Lankan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia said, “We are vigilant about the progress of the appeal made to the Saudi Court of Appeal. There are many news reports published in media. As a government we are doing all we can to save this woman from her fate. We are optimistic that the sentence would be lessened. It is important to inform the workers about the culture and the laws of a country before they are posted in it for employment.â€

FOREIGN Employment Minister Thalatha Atukorale said, “I need to stop sending our women to Middle Eastern countries where such barbaric laws are practiced. But still I have been discouraged by the objections that are raised by some social organizations and women’s rights groups against such a decision. We are doing the best we can to save this woman. I hope that the Saudi Court would give a positive response to our appeal.â€