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HRW: domestic workers in Oman exposed to 'abuse'

HRW has reported alleged domestic worker abuse in Oman [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 July, 2016

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Widespread abuse of domestic helpers appear to be taking place in Oman, Human Rights Watch has alleged in a report, with some employers allegedly telling workers they had 'bought' them.

Many foreign domestic workers in Oman remain trapped in abusive employment, Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday.

The human rights group urged the Gulf sultanate to reform its "restrictive" immigration system to help prevent further abuses.

A 67-page report titled "'I was Sold': Abuse and Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers in Oman" was released by the watchdog on Wednesday, and included interviews with 59 domestic workers. 

Some of them described being "sold" while the New York-based group said the "abuses that amounted to forced labour or trafficking".

The report documents how Oman's visa sponsorship system for workers - known in Gulf countries as kafala - and the lack of labour law protection leave migrant domestic workers "exposed to abuse and exploitation".

"Migrant domestic workers in Oman are bound to their employers and left to their mercy," said Rothna Begum, HRW's Middle East women's rights researcher.

"Employers can force domestic workers to work without rest, pay or food, knowing they can be punished if they escape, while the employers rarely face penalties for abuse," she said.

HRW said at least 130,000 female migrant domestic staff work in Oman.

In one documented case, Bangladeshi Asma K, says she travelled to the UAE to work there, but her recruitment agency "sold" her to a man who confiscated her passport and took her to adjacent Oman, where he forced her to work 21 hours a day.

"I would start working at 4:30am and finish at 1am," she was quoted by HRW as saying.

"For the entire day they wouldn't let me sit. When I said I want to leave, he said: 'I bought you for 1,560 rials ($4,052) from Dubai. Give it back to me and then you can go.'"

HRW urged Oman to reform its labour law to cover domestic workers and provide them with "equal protections" available to other workers, and to revise its current sponsorship system.

"[Oman] should ratify the International Labour Organization Domestic Workers Convention, and bring its laws into compliance with its provisions," HRW said in a statement.

The sultanate should also cooperate with countries of origin to prevent abuse and exploitation, it added.

Human rights groups have repeatedly urged Gulf states to reform their labour laws affecting domestic workers, who mostly come from south Asian and African countries and a lack of legal protection leave them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

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