At least 10 domestic helpers committed suicide this year in Jordan after psychological breakdowns at the hands of abusive employers, according to health officials. Thousands of other helpers have reported extensive maltreatment.
Mumen Hadidi, President of the Jordanian Society of Forensic Medicine, said that the suicide victims all died either by hanging themselves or jumping from balconies.
"We are not talking about a widespread phenomenon; these are the exceptions, but they must be addressed," said Hadidi.
However, he noted three common types of psychological abuse that employers committed against domestic helpers: rejection, which could lead to isolation and depression; negative criticism; and the expectation of availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"There are some women who would crack under such conditions, mostly if they are isolated from their families, which could lead to catastrophic results," said Hadidi.
A report published this week by the National Institute for Forensic Medicine (NIFM) on the treatment of domestic helpers revealed other forms of maltreatment, including sexual harassment, rape, withholding of wages, prolonged working hours and beatings, which sometimes led to death.
According to a new report by the Ministry of Labour’s information and studies department, the number of legal domestic helpers in the country is just over 38,000, of which some 18,000 are Indonesians, 11,000 Filipinas, 8,000 Sri Lankans, 350 Egyptians and 350 from other nationalities.
In October, Jennifer Perez, 20, a domestic helper from the Philippines, died from her injuries after she was thrown out of a balcony by her female employer. According to the employer, who is free on bail, Perez "fell from the balcony" after the two women fought over a mobile phone that belonged to the victim.
According to diplomats and officials, about 10 per cent of domestic helpers have reported abuse, but Assem Rababa'a, head of Adallah human rights organisation, said many more were suffering silently.
Despite recent measures by the Jordanian government to impose restrictions on recruitment agencies in a bid to protect foreign domestic helpers, recorded cases of abuse were still on the rise, according to diplomats.
The Embassy of the Philippines in the capital, Amman, recently lodged a legal complaint against a recruitment agency for forcing a domestic helper to take medicine for an abortion.
Asan Nusra, 31, arrived from the Philippines three months ago, not knowing she was pregnant. When she became ill, her employer sent her to the recruitment agent, who forced her to abort the child.
"I lost so much blood after they gave me medicine. I was afraid I would die," said Nusra, who is currently staying within the confines of the Philippine embassy after fleeing her employer's residence. Nusra said she can no longer work and wanted to return to the Philippines.
The Philippine embassy is asking for financial compensation on her behalf and is insisting the recruitment agency be closed.
Treating workers like slaves
"They are treating workers like slaves. They do not consider them as humans," said Mohammad Nur Al-Din Tamand, labour attaché at the Philippine embassy in Amman. He said he receives daily cases of reported abuse.
Earlier this year, the Philippine authorities imposed a ban on sending domestic helpers to Jordan following a reported increase in abuse cases, but the decision was revoked last month after they received assurances from the Jordanian government that necessary measures were put in place to protect domestic helpers.
The corridors of the Philippine and Sri Lankan embassies in Amman are jammed with domestic helpers fleeing abuse every day. The majority of them did not want to return to their previous employers.
The Philippine embassy has become home to 160 domestic helpers who say they are victims of abuse and the Sri Lankan embassy has at least 400 women waiting for compensation before heading home.
Each woman has a heart-wrenching story to tell. One said she has not been paid for months, another was physically assaulted and a third had her passports confiscated and was prevented from contacting her family.
Government officials said the ministry of labour is running a nationwide campaign to investigate practices of recruitment agencies in a bid to address violations. But they said the campaign did not include the workplace of domestic helpers, where most of the abuse occurs.
"If domestic helpers report abuse, security departments will handle the complaints," Raja Talab, spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, said. However, diplomats said that most of the abuses happen to illegal employees, who cannot complain to security forces for fear of deportation.
"When an employer does not want to pay his financial obligations, he claims the employee stole from him. When police discover she is an illegal resident, she gets deported without having the chance to claim her rights,” said Tamand.
Last week, the Ministry of Labour implemented a new policy according to which recruitment agencies must have the approval of the concerned embassy before applying for an entry visa.
Tamand said such measures could help control the unrecorded traffic of domestic helpers. However, he admitted there were thousands who enter the country on tourist visas and end up as domestic helpers.
The ministry estimated that there are up to 60,000 foreign workers illegally employed in Jordan.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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