25 September, 2020

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Sri Lankan Housemaids: Law of Kafala – Modern-Day Slavery System

By Shamen Kalansuriya

Shamen Kalansuriya

When we look in to the TV, radio and news paper advertisements published by the housemaid recruiting agencies they are offering precious opportunities to housemaids. They are even providing the visa and air tickets. But unfortunately we are not aware about the poisons snake call Kafala, wrapped in that gift pack. Poor people think this as a great chance to go abroad and earn but what they don’t know is the price for this gift.

Kafala (Sponsorship system)  : “Under the kafala (literally, ‘guaranteeing and taking care of’ in Arabic) programme in the Arab States, an employer is required to sponsor a migrant worker’s visa and assume full economic and legal responsibility for him/her during the contracted period. Legally, the sponsored migrant worker can work only for his/her sponsor. In the case of a domestic worker, the programme makes it mandatory for her to remain in her employer/sponsors’ home. While the kafala system was created to provide the government with a way to regulate foreign labour flows, critics charge that the  system can lead to the exploitation of migrant workers in general, and women domestic workers in particular.”[1]

Housemaids at Airport

“The dependence created by the sponsorship system has the consequence that many domestic workers who suffer abuse do not make complaints against their employers. There have been cases of imprisonment of victim of abuse who had left their sponsor’s home in order to file a complaint [2]

In 2009 Bahrain banded this Kafala system and now they allow their employees to switch from one employer to another without the current employees concern. [2]

When we talk about the labour laws in Gulf countries, Jordan is the first and only Gulf country which covers domestic workers by the country labour law. So in other gulf countries domestic workers are not being covered under labour law and they don’t have clear provisions about working hours or overtime payments.[3]

These migrant workers are the major source of income to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans respect the war heroes so much but has forgotten that these migrant workers were the main source of foreign income for the war fought.  During the war time they did a great service by funding for the war. It was them who actually fought in the economic frontline. Even at present they are the people who fund the development projects. So as the society we have a great responsibility towards them. But from this responsibility part I don’t mean you people to do humorous things such as protesting against Kafala law or use this kafala law to criticize and debate with the Sri Lankan Muslims.  We can work together as a nation and find a sustainable solution for this issue.

And according to my point of view, media is the most responsible party of this issue. They can educate the normal society about these laws because they are the only people who can touch every layer of the Sri Lankan society. But it is unfortunate that only the businessmen use this ability to advertise. Media can show the impacts of these laws and help the society to avoid these bad impacts.


[1] HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States Shifting from silence, stigma and shame to safe mobility with dignity, equity and justice, p.25 http://hdru.aprc.undp.org/resource_centre/pub_pdfs/P1105.pdf

[2] Bahrain scraps sponsorship system http://www.migrant-rights.org/2009/05/06/bahrain-scraps-sponsorship-system/

[3] Gulf Countries should Revise Domestic Worker Contracthttp://www.ituc-csi.org/gulf-countries-should-revise?lang=en

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    good article and I strongly believe there should be something done about this. I am not sure some of the language used is appropriate. I found “you people” to be a bit patronising.

  • 0
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    Well, if BBS has its way, we do not need to worry about Kafala anymore.

    BBS wants to ban sending housemaids to the Middle East. Conversely BBS attacks against Muslims in Sri Lanka may lead to the Middle East banning recruits from Sri Lanka.

    Economy is not the strong point of BBS.

  • 0
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    A good piece about the Kafala System.But you should have used the term “Domestic Workers” in your caption too. The word “Housemaid” is somewhat of a derogatory term, you know? But on the positive side the the international community has now come up with the ILO Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers & their dependents to protect the said worker category.

  • 0
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    KIndly arrange to Translate this to SINHALA.It will be very much useful to this innocent Housemaids who try to find wealth in middle east

  • 0
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    These women should be given booklets in sinhala and tamil with information about their rights and privileges while in employment.Now they are taught use of modern kitchen and other appliances but they should be taught how to be polite without being servile,and how to defend themselves against sexual harassment.Each may be given two “morning after pills” to use in an emergency – unwanted pregnancies have occured.Each country’s banking system should be known,to enable them bank wages monthly.They should register with sri lankan embassies/consulates on arrival and telephone numbers given with instructions to contact monthly,with a letter to employers to allow this.They should be allowed to carry a stock of vitamins & iron pills,pain & fever medication,dressings alcohol and sticking plaster.They should be immunised against TB,tetanus,polio & pneumonia.

  • 0
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    Kafala or sponsorship is found in various forms. For most countries, not only Islamic, you need a sponsor to obtain a visa for a long visit or work permit. The idea is that someone takes responsibility for you during your stay and the govt can hold that person responsible for any misdeeds or problems.

    It is a law of the respective countries and is not an Islamic requirement or law. Neither are Sri Lankan muslims responsible for the laws of other Islamic countries. If you want to work or visit any country you need to obey their laws, otherwise you may decide not to go, that is your own sweet choice.

  • 0
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    Shamen Kalansuriya – Employment sponsorship is the same even in the UK. It applies even to our Doctors until they obtain their residency (stand to be corrected here). They cannot change jobs without the existing sponsor agrees/releases. The reason for this, there is a cost incurred for the sponsorship, responsibility of the immigrant worker, avoid absconding etc. It is the same in Singapore, Korea & Japan.

    Before we implement labour laws in other countries, shall we work on labour laws for our domestic workers in Sri Lanka ?

    Issues they face ;

    No proper place to sleep
    Work 7 days a week – from 5 am till 10 – 11 pm ?
    No weekly day offs. Holidays ?
    Monthly salary – 10 to 12 k
    Physical abuse by the lady of the house
    Sexual abuse by the man of the house
    Verbal abuse by the children of the house
    The list is endless

    Let’s lead by example, shall we ?

  • 0
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    yes the English and the tone of this article is a bit rough but the point made is very important. As a frequent traveler I frequently meet these apprehensive young women on their way to the Middle East. For many its understandably a traumatic, novel, scary experience. But what really bothers me is the way the rest of the society treats them. People don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, the immigration officials are rude, the airline crew can be rude, nobody bothers to explain things to them. As a society we have to question ourselves. Their blood, sweat and tears are the largest source of foreign exchange in the Sri Lankan economy. The land-cruisers our politicians drive, the weapons we use, the parties we have are all from exploiting these poor mothers and sisters, the poorest most vulnerable people in our society.

  • 0
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    Its the governments responsibility to highlight this in the Media, why cant BBS take this matter up, instead of Sympathizing Cows, isnt slavery & human rights worth the soul.

  • 0
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    I disagree. The media can explain the dangers of working in the Middle East but that will not prevent housemaids from seeking employment there. The scourge of poverty will make them overlook all warnings.

    I blame the Government for this problem. The welfare of these poor women is the last thing on the their mind. They will only move if there is some problem that affects their credibility such as the Rizana Nafeek execution or the housemaid who returned with nails in her. Even then, a few mild protests is all that can be expected. A Government that abuses its citizens at home is hardly going to be concerned about them when abroad. They are just a source of foreign exchange.

  • 0
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    A question for the ‘so called’ Muslim leaders of Sri Lanka ,Rauf,Azwer,Fowzie,Rishard et al

    why are you lot not doing anything about the abuse of Lankan maids in the Middle East?

  • 0
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    I work quite a bit on the problems faced by both internal and external migrant workers. With respect to external migrant workers, the policy through successive regimes can be summed up as follows: “Oh thank God, someone is taking these people out of our hair and we don’t have to bother about feeding them or finding them jobs”. The extreme lack of concern and regard for the security, health and well being of these women needs to be addressed at many levels. Media does play a significant role but it cannot engineer this alone. Trade Unions and other worker rights groups also need to close ranks and advocate aggressively for policy changes.

    It should be of interest that our entire economy (not just the war effort) is placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of our women. a) Those who work overseas b) those who work in estates c) those who work in the garment trade. ALL of them are living and working under slave conditions and men who chart policy and plan strategy should ask themselves “who, in fact, are the MEN in our society? Its the WOMEN” *smiles*

  • 0
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    Excellent article. Sending house maids is a short sighted decision by the government. Unfortunately the politicians think only surviving and they don’t have a broad vision for the country

  • 0
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    If our government is really interested in protecting the rights of our workers in ME, the Embassy and its officers would take extra care of the workers when they are in trouble. But these so called officers in our ME embassies are useless bunch of selfish beggers..There are many incidents to prove this..

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