This latest horror story involving an 18-year-old Filipino woman in Saudi Arabia again condemns the Philippine government’s deployment of domestic helpers to the Middle East and urgently underscores the critical need to review this deployment policy and take drastic action.
“Rina” (not her real name), 18, is in critical condition in a hospital in Saudi Arabia and immediately needs blood transfusion after emergency operation to remove a blood clot in her head, reports today by DZRH radio station.
She allegedly suffered abuses in the hands of her Saudi employer and might even have been sexually abused. She’s just a minor from Maguindanao, but her unscrupulous recruitment agency in the Philippines allegedly made it appear that she’s already 25 years old to qualify her to work abroad as a domestic helper.
Even a cursory or simple Google search on abuses of Filipino maids in Middle East will certainly reveal a long list of recurring and disturbing physical and sexual abuses — most of which go unpunished — of Filipino women in that region. It will be most irresponsible, callous and un-Christian for labor officials to continue turning a blind eye to this litany of abuses of Filipino women unable to defend themselves from physical and sexual assaults while confined in houses of their employers.
Rina’s predicament and the extreme difficulties for Philippine government agencies to assist her at her greatest time of need again underscores the great need for the Philippine labor officials to exercise ample political will to consider adopting the following courses of action:
1] Impose a temporary ban on the deployment of Filipino domestic helpers in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries in which there is recurring incidence of physical and sexual abuses.
2] Use this temporary ban to force Middle Eastern countries to enter into bilateral labor negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement on a mutually-acceptable employee-employer labor contract — similar to the one used in Hong Kong — which spells out in explicit terms the privileges, duties and obligations under the law of both the employee and employer.
3] Obtain a firm commitment during these labor negotiations from Middle Eastern labor officials that erring employers will be prosecuted under their laws if allegations of abuses on Filipino helpers are verified.
4] Step up and stiffen sanctions on errant recruitment agencies for deployments of minors, like Rina. These sanctions can and should include filing of human trafficking and other charges, administrative and criminal and even immediate detention, so as to serve as a strong deterrent on this type of offense.
5] Crack down on recruitment agencies that offer “fly-now-pay-later” schemes that induce and even dupe job applicants into flying to the Middle East to work as domestic helpers.
6] To blunt the adverse impact of a temporary ban on deployments of domestic helpers to the Middle East, deployments should be diverted to Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries where incidence of physical and sexual abuses is much less compared to those in the Middle East.
7] Labor officials should immediately and urgently review and revamp the long-standing policy on the deployment of domestic helpers abroad. Instead of deploying low-skilled domestic helpers, applicants for this type of work should be encouraged and induced to aim for higher-paying jobs as caregivers in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. The problem of aging population and stagnant population growth in these countries will create an increasing high-paying job pool in these places where incidence of abuses is hardly a problem. Labor officials should coordinate closely with TESDA, OWWA and other relevant government agencies to provide language and caregiver courses for free or minimal costs to those interested to take up caregiver jobs.
Trying to assist Filipino women after being battered blue and black, and even in critical condition just like Rina, obviously puts a much stronger and bigger strain on the Philippine government’s manpower and financial resources. Instead of simply reacting to serious problems after they have already struck hapless Filipino women in different parts of the Middle East, labor officials should exercise better sense, more compassion and greater political will to do the right thing.
It is most unjust and unfair to leave mostly young Filipino women in the hands of Middle Eastern employers with a long and recurrent history of brutalizing and maltreating foreign maids as if they are slaves in ancient times.
Filipino women deserve much better protection and care from their government while enduring the extreme sacrifice of toiling thousands of miles away from their loved ones back home.
This can best be achieved by imposing a temporary ban on further deployments of Filipino women to Middle Eastern countries until bilateral labor agreements are secured, guaranteeing their safety and privileges in their host countries. Deploying low-skilled, low-salaried domestic helpers abroad should also be reviewed urgently, revamped and redirected toward deployment of higher-skilled, higher-salaried caregiver jobs, especially because of rising demand for trained caregivers for the aging population in different Asian countries, notably Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.