There are an estimated 6000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Kuwait (GSI 2018). Men and women migrate from South and Southeast Asia, Egypt, the Middle East, and increasingly throughout Africa to work in Kuwait, predominantly in the domestic service, construction, hospitality, and sanitation sectors. The vast majority of migrant workers arrive voluntarily; however, upon arrival some sponsors subject migrants to forced labour, including through non-payment of wages, protracted working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and the withholding of passports. Many of the migrant workers arriving in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to labour recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labour broker fees in Kuwait which, according to Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer—a practice making workers highly vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage. To a lesser extent, migrant women are also subjected to forced prostitution.
Helena was 29 years old and a mother of 3 when she left for Kuwait in 1995 to work as a maid. However, upon arrival as well as her domestic duties Helena was forced to undertake sex work.
There were two of us in that family, one Sri Lankan maid who earned more than me and myself. It took me three months to learn the language. Beside housework, I was expected to do sex work. If you did not accept this, the employer did not keep you.
At the beginning, I had a lot of problem to agree to this but when I understood that unless I took up sex work, I would be sent back, I gave in. I came for the money and I decided not to be picky about the way I would earn. At first, my employer and his son spoiled me. They used me against my will but I did not protest much. Then I was taken to hotels and to other homes. They earn a lot of money through me. Some days, I had ten men. Think how much money that is. At the end of the month, the employer gave us a bit extra on top of our salaries, sometime 5 KD, sometime 10 KD. We also had baksheesh, which we kept.
Women who do this, in the end think they have lost everything (chastity and honour), so they don't want to come back. They return eventually but when they have made a lot of money. I am talking from my own experience.
When I became spoiled, I thought why should I do this only a little. A little bad or very bad, what is the difference? If I work more, I will earn more. But I had a fear inside. Sometimes I felt depressed and guilty and I worried about catching disease. I worried also about my children. I felt shame when I thought about them.
I accepted this work from the beginning, so I was not maltreated but I saw others who refused, they were often beaten. In hotels, before meeting big parties, we were given injections or alcohol because there was a lot of pressure. In homes, we were not given injections because the pressure was less. Sex work increased when there was a celebration such as a birthday. The host announced to his guests that women were available for sex and they came to us.
With my husband, sex made me tired but over there, so many men came to me and I was not tired. I liked bidesh. Life is comfortable there. It would have been even more comfortable if we had not had to do so much sex work.
My customers sometimes used condoms. If 5 men came to me, may be half of them used condoms. A same customer often used condom for the first time but not afterwards. We could understand who was a gentleman (bhodro lok), they used condom more. The employer's wife gave us a pill everyday (contraceptive?).
After five years, I paid my own ticket back. I did not want to stay any longer because of my children. My husband is happy. I sent home about 4,00,000 taka.
Narrative located in the report ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Critical Look at Women Labour Migration and the Trafficking Within’ by Thérèse Blanchet provided courtesy of The Child Protection Hub