Muscat: Oman has been hiring housemaids from Asia and Africa for over 20 years. They are recruited to assist families in their house chores as well as to help the disabled, elderly and children.
Many Omanis approve of bringing housemaids into the country to help families in their daily chores. With many Omani women opting for jobs, the housemaids have become indispensable for the common household here in Oman.
However, with the rise in the number of housemaids, the cases of violation of labour laws have also gone up. Many have been arrested for violating labour laws as well as for indulging in prostitution. According to available figures, more than 3,000 housemaids were arrested in 2012 under various acts compared to 1,500 in 2011.
The Ministry of Manpower has confirmed that the number of housemaids running away from their sponsors is rising steadily. Despite the Royal Oman Police (ROP's) regular crackdown against such absconders, their number is still alarmingly high.
A report by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) revealed that the number of domestic female and male workers in Oman reached 224,006 by the end of 2012 — an increase of 25 per cent since 2010.
The report pointed out that 91 per cent of domestic workers comprised women, and most are Indians and Indonesians, making up to 46 per cent, while about 80 per cent of the male workers are Indians and Bangladeshis.
Muscat accounted for the largest proportion of domestic workers, with 42.5 per cent while Musandam and Wusta governorates have one per cent and 0.8 per cent domestic workers respectively. The report noted that 71 per cent of domestic workers do not have any educational qualifications.
Meanwhile, experts say it is easy for pimps to lure poor housemaids into prostitution, as they leave their countries to provide a better future for their loved ones. Pimps entice — with money — workers who are new to the country and who are working as part-time domestic help. Sometimes, housemaids unexpectedly leave their sponsors and vanish either to seek quick money through prostitution or to escape from physical and mental "torture" by their sponsors, as well as because of delays in salary payment.
How to be fair to both?
The question is how to be fair to both of them? Housemaids who come here to support their families back home as well as the sponsors who pay hundreds of rials to hire them.
Some sponsors spend nearly OMR1,300 to bring a housemaid to Oman and an air ticket alone may cost OMR350. The sponsors have to further undergo trauma if the housemaid flees with some valuables. They have to report it to the police even as their hope of somebody helping them in their household chores also vanishes.
Naser Al Maawali, a sponsor, told Times of Oman that two of his housemaids have fled despite being given good treatment and always paid on time. "I lost more than OMR3,000.
Who is going to compensate me?," he asked. Ali is one of the thousands of cases of sponsors who have been duped after spending thousands of rials for hiring a housemaid, but without success.
"I employed two housemaids in one year and both of them fled. I paid around OMR1,500 for the applications. We need some kind of guarantee from the Labour Department on this issue so that we are compensated if housemaids flee," Mustafa Al Amri, a businessman, said.
Even housemaids need some kind of protection from mental, physical and sexual abuse. One of the recruiting agents in Muscat, Ahmed Al Balushi, said Muscat-based networks help housemaids in their escape and also give shelter to them.
Rashid Al Habsi, another agent, who regularly brings housemaids to Muscat, agreed that there has been an increase in the number of housemaids fleeing from sponsors. "We receive a lot of complaints from both sponsors and housemaids. Most of the sponsors put the blame on us. But ill-treatment by sponsors is one of the reasons for absconding housemaids. Though there are some good sponsors who have lost their money because of the housemaid's irresponsible behaviour."
Omanis have appealed to the authorities to investigate prostitution rings before they get out of control. Omanis have urged the Ministry of Manpower to enact regulations to guarantee the rights of both sponsors and housemaids. Observers note that authorities and society must work together to put an end to such problems by finding comprehensive solutions and imposing hefty penalties.