There are an estimated 3000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Bahrain (GSI 2018). Men and women, primarily from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Philippines (among other countries) migrate voluntarily to work as semi-skilled or unskilled labourers in the construction of service industries. Some of these workers are subjected to forced labour, suffering conditions such as passport retention, confinement, non-payment of wages, and physical and sexual abuse. Those employed in domestic work are particularly vulnerable as they are only partially protected under Bahrain labour law, and cultural norms and existing legal infrastructure avert private home inspection.
Hafeza was 21 years old when she went to Bahrain to work as a maid to earn money for her family. Upon arrival Hafeza was subjected to physical abuse and after 3 months was forced to undertake sex work.
I earned 2,50,000 taka in 4 years. Because of my going abroad, my family is better off. I stuck it out because bhabi (elder brother's wife) warned me not to come back earlier. Believe me, it was not easy.
My employer was an electrician. He had one wife and six children. From the beginning, they did not treat me well. They hit me even with a chain because I did not understand what they wanted. The first three months, I only did house work. Then, they requested me to do 'bad work'. I was unmarried. I felt ashamed. Then, I remembered my bhabi's words. I thought, if I go back to Bangladesh, my parents have died, who will look after me. And if I don't listen to my employer, I will have to go back. So, I did, as they wanted.
There were two girls from Teknaf working in the same house. Both were unmarried and had been there for a long time.
The first day it happened, I was terrified. The Pakistani man who came used me the way he wanted. He wore no clothes and also took mine off. I closed my eyes and did not open them until he left. He used me three times, in the bathroom, in the room. It was painful. Afterwards, I did not want to leave the room. How could I show my face?
At the table, madam asked me: "Did you have any problem?" I did not reply. She took the money. This is how my deho bebsha (sex trade) started. The housework was not too bad. I was more pressurized to do sex work than housework.
A separate room in the house was kept just for this purpose. Everyday, I was given an injection. I was also fed beer. After a while, I quite liked it.
The employer never came to me. The Teknaf girls attended to his needs. There was no special time for this work. I had to be available always. Everyday, someone came. Most days, there were 5 to 6 men. I never saw Bangladeshis. They were Saudis, Pakistanis, Iranis and other nationalities.
After one year, I began to detest this work. I think if people were not made of blood and flesh, if they were made of wood, brick or iron, then they would be reduced by half doing this work. The way khaddama are used in that country, all this wear and tear, friction, abrasion of their bodies, it does not show, no mark is left. Outwardly, girls are protected in this way. When I went back to Bangladesh, the work I had done did not show and this was lucky for me.
Bahrain is such a place; people just eat, gather strength and have sex. Very little kindness or tenderness is shown. If I had to do this work once in a while like husband and wife do it for years, it would not have been so bad but not in this way.
When I came back, everyone was happy. I looked healthy. My value in the family had risen. But inside I thought: Hare! Money, you have made the world blind.
The second time, there was myself and a Sri Lankan girl. There was no peace there either but it was not with outsiders. It was the father and the sons. That was even worst. Father and son using the same woman! Think of it. I was not angry with them but with myself. I thought: Allah, what kind of life did you give me? Why not death instead of this? I could not take it anymore, so I bought my ticket and came back home.
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