THE ongoing evacuation of Filipinos from Lebanon has, coincidentally, put the spotlight on the hardships being faced by migrant domestic helpers.

Television news is replete with images of tearful women, most of whom had worked as maids in the strife-torn country, thanking the heavens for having escaped not only the fierce battles between Israel and Hezbollah forces, but their abusive employers as well. One of those maids was reported to have risked certain injury and jumped from a second-floor apartment after her employer barred her from leaving the house to join the other workers who were going to be repatriated.

But according to a new report from an international rights group, such incidents of abuse are far from isolated. There is enough pattern, says the report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, to show that migrant domestic workers — from the Philippines and many other countries — are routinely deprived of their basic rights and exposed to various forms of discrimination and abuse.

“Millions of women and girls turn to domestic work as one of the few economic opportunities available to them,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher for the Human Rights Watch during the launch of the report, Swept Under the Rug: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Around the World. (View the report.)

“Abuses often take place in private homes and are totally hidden from the public eye,” Varia said.

Swept Under the Rug puts together research since 2001 on abuses against women and child domestic workers coming from or working in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, El Salvador, Guatemala, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Togo, and the United States.

The report admits that it is difficult to estimate the prevalence of abuse, given the private nature of domestic work and a general lack of reporting mechanisms. Still, indications are rife, says the report, that abuses are indeed widespread. It refers to Saudi Arabia, for example, where the Philippines, Indonesian, and Sri Lankan embassies handle “thousands of complaints” every year.

The abuses range from non-payment of wages, inadequate living conditions, termination of employment, to assault and rape.

Feminization of labor migration

Even with the very significant threat of potential abuses in their destination countries, migrant workers continue to dare face the risk and their numbers continue to rise. Among them, the women migrants have grown in far bigger numbers over the last three decades, Human Rights Watch notes. Today, women comprise half of the estimated 200 million migrants worldwide.

This so-called feminization of labor migration, says the report, is “particularly pronounced” in the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In these countries, national-level numbers show that women comprise 60-75 percent of legal migrants, a huge majority of whom are employed as maids in the Middle East, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

And why do the populations of women migrant workers continue to swell? Swept Under the Rug theorizes with what it calls “push and pull factors.” As employment opportunities shrink in the labor-sending countries, the economies of those receiving them increasingly rely on labor migration to fill low-paying jobs with poor working conditions. Maids help free women among the growing middle-classes of those countries, who are then able to work outside the home.

And for labor-sending countries such as the Philippines, their economies rely on the remittances that flow in from the labor of those overseas. In 2005, according to World Bank figures quoted by Human Rights Watch, migrant workers from developing countries sent home some US$167 billion in remittances.

Need for protective mechanisms

As women continue to search for work outside their own countries, the report calls, governments of receiving countries must “regulate working conditions, detect violations and impose meaningful civil and criminal sanctions.”

For their part, labor-sending countries must install an adequate framework to regulate and monitor recruitment, training, and employment conditions at the host countries.

The report takes a positive note of the protections that the Philippine government, through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, has started to provide for those employed as maids abroad. Those protections include a standard contract that ensures a weekly day of rest, and regulations that require employers to pay most of the costs associated with recruitment and placement.

But clearly, such mechanisms have not been enough to stem the abuses. The report calls “on governments, the international community, civil society, and donors to prioritize the defense of migrant domestic workers’ rights and freedoms.”

An international treaty, the Migrant Workers Convention, was finalized in 1990 and came into force in 2003. The Convention guarantees migrant workers a range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.

Human Rights Watch laments that while several labor-sending countries have ratified the Convention, such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka, most labor-receiving countries have not agreed to be bound by the Convention.

4 Responses to Rights group reports on lack of protection for domestic workers


Juan Makabayan

July 29th, 2006 at 6:03 pm

Philippine Constitution
Declaration of Principles and State Policies

Section 4. The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people..
Section 7. The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy
Section 9. The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living,and an improved quality of life for all.
Section 10. The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.
Section 11. The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.
Section 12. The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. ..
Section 14. The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.
Section 18. The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.
Section 19. The State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.
Section 27. The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.
Section 28. Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.



July 30th, 2006 at 11:54 am

Ryebosco Constitution
Article 1
“Declaration of Imprisonment and Execution to the Corrupt”

Section 1. The new Philippine government shall arrest every known and documented betrayer of public trust; those who have contributed to the moral and economic decay since the declaration of Martial Law; the root causes of misery to the 80 million Filipinos today, and also pursue those living abroad to avoid justice. These pieces of shits will be herded in one human-box container and dropped inside the mouth of Mayon Volcano.


Cecile Impens

July 30th, 2006 at 11:44 pm

How strange! Does the Declaration of Principles and State Policies applies only to the OFWs? Why not open our eyes to what is happening with the domestic helpers in the Philippines soil? Why are we only dealing with the oppressions and abuses done to our compatriots working as domestic helps abroad? If the Human Rights Watch would like to put an end to this abuse, the Philippines is the right place to start it!



July 31st, 2006 at 1:18 am

i dont want my own personal biases here, Cecile, but i think you are trying to split hairs (to borrow jester’s words) :).

you are right of course, but, Lebanon is not exactly your right place, especially NOW, you want your kababata, kapit-bahay, kakilala, to see literally fighting their way out not only from the showers of rockets (well, there would be no ruckus if its the manna type) but as well from them crazy employers who don’t want helper(s) even just to register their names with embassy officials !!

for the umptenth time, ha-haaaay, is there no formal and speedy evacuation plans yet or wait until a Pinay blazing in flames flood our tv sets before we act? Heavens forbid…

btw, the former Bishop of Bavaria, now Pope Benedict XVI, already issued an appeal for a ceasefire, will the CBCP, now issue a statement of concern as well or still afraid to ruffle Palace official line of ‘don’t get involved’?

or is non-impeachment their only concern?

if it is, that’s one direct result of being overfed and overly pampered, it negatively affects one’s sense of feeling- hardly feel anything anymore, especially to the cries of pain around you, i mean outside the bishop’s palace anyway…

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