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Ponnamma S.

2006 (Narrative date)

There are an estimated 61,000 people living in modern slavery in Saudi Arabia (GSI 2018). It is a source and destination country for men and women trafficked from South and South East Asia and Africa. People voluntarily migrate to the country to work in a variety of sectors including construction and domestic service; many of these workers are vulnerable to forced labour. Traffickers and brokers often illegally recruit migrants to work in Saudi Arabia and subsequently forced them into domestic servitude or debt bondage. Female domestic workers are particularly at risk of trafficking due to their isolation inside private residences. Non-payment or late payment of wages remains a complaint from foreign workers, while employer's withholding of worker's passports remains a significant problem. Trafficking perpetrators include businesses of all sizes, private families, recruitment companies in both Saudi Arabia and labor-sending countries, and organized criminal elements.

Ponnamma S., a 52-year-old domestic worker from Sri Lanka, travelled to Saudi Arabia for work through an agent. Forced to work long hours with no breaks, Ponnamma was never paid for her labour and beaten. After escaping her employers, she went to the police but they returned her back to the house.

[After an unsuccessful escape attempt] That day onwards, for five months, they didn’t let me have any phone calls. They locked me in my room and beat me up.

For one year and five months, [I received] no salary at all. I asked for money and they would beat me, or cut me with a knife, or burn me. They beat my head also. In one arm, they burned me. And this arm they cut me with a knife. There are markings on my back. My body ached all over. I was beaten all over. They would take my head and bang it against the wall. Whenever I requested my salary, there would be a fight.

In Sri Lanka they promised me 700-800 riyals [per month]. Here they [agreed to] only 400

I had no time to relax at all, when I had any rest, the madam would find some work for me to do. I had no days off

A senior officer came. I complained about the marks. I complained that Baba had beaten me up. Baba claimed that he was not there at the time. Then they asked if Baba paid me. I said, “For one-and-a-half years I have not been paid.” I refused to go back to Baba. I insisted to go to the embassy house…. The police told Baba to drop me at the embassy, but he took me back to the house…. The lady beat me really badly. She told me, “Anywhere you go in Saudi Arabia, they’ll return you back here. Even if we kill you, the police won’t say anything to us. If you hadn’t run, we would have killed you and thrown you in the trash.


Narrative credit to Human Rights Watch

Original Narrative can be found in Human Rights Watch Report “As If I am Not Human”: Abuses Against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia