Dhaka: A global human rights body has cautioned Bangladesh against sending women workers, particularly as domestic help, to Saudi Arabia where it says they are abused by employers and are not covered by labour laws.
"It`s not the question if they will face abuse, but the question is when they will face it. Because I am sure that it`ll happen," said Nisha Varia, an ethnic Indian senior researcher of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Following talks with a Saudi delegation in early April, Bangladesh`s expatriates` welfare minister said Saudi Arabia might hire 10,000 female domestic helps and the process would start in two months.
During the talks Sanarcom and Baira - associations of recruiting agencies of Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh - signed a memorandum of understanding for workers` protection.
Varia, who has been working at the Women`s Rights Division of the HRW for eight years, says domestic helps are not covered in Saudi labour law.
They have neither weekly holidays nor any limit to working hours. Many have to work 18 hours a day for months or even years without a break.
"Sometimes, they`re locked inside the house, and they cannot to go out and contact their families," she told The Daily Star newspaper.
"While such abuses may happen in any country, what we have seen in Saudi Arabia is that it`s very rare for the employers to get punished, even when they confess to abusing."
For years, she says, workers from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines faced many problems including non-payments for even years. Also very common are physical and sexual abuse.
An international relations graduate from Columbia University who has worked on migrant domestic workers in Asia, Varia said it was the right of women to get job and even go abroad. But the government should provide proper training before they go.