Thursday, January 28, 2010

This should be a national emergency in Lebanon

"Abused, humiliated and deprived of the most basic rights, foreign maids in Lebanon are starting to fight back against their employers in court and, in rare cases, they are winning. Nanda, from Sri Lanka is one of the few to break the silence. The 22-year-old arrived in Beirut in 2009 to work as a housekeeper, hoping to help support her eight-year-old daughter and soldier husband back home with her meager monthly salary of 180 dollars (127 euros). Instead she found herself trapped in an abusive household with no way out. Nanda's employer confiscated her passport and forced her to work seven days a week, although her contract stipulated eight-hour workdays and a recent decree adopted by the Lebanese government that calls for domestic workers to be given one day off a week. "I worked from 5:30 in the morning until midnight, non-stop and without pay," she recalled. "And what's worse is I was never allowed to call my family." Nanda was particularly shocked when her employer's six- and 12-year old children took to beating her when she did not cater to their whims. "I did not understand Arabic and now I know I was often being treated as a 'sharmouta'," the Arabic word for whore, Nanda said, fighting back tears. "For my first two months in Lebanon, my boss gave me one slice of bread a day to eat because she said I was too fat, and sometimes leftovers. I was always hungry," she told AFP, sitting in a shelter at Caritas Lebanon, a charity group that offers refuge to victims of domestic abuse. But today, Nanda has joined a growing number of foreign workers who are filing lawsuits against their employers in a bid to improve their lot."