The arrival of the body of a Ugandan girl who was working in Oman triggered mixed reactions among Ugandans given that this is not the first case to be reported. Cases of Ugandan girls working as maids dying or being mistreated in the Middle East are not uncommon.
There are videos on YouTube where you see not only Ugandan house maids, but also Sri Lankans, Filippines, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Ghanians, among others, crying out for help. When you watch the videos, you come to a conclusion that some of the girls are subjected to harsh treatment by their bosses.
On the return of Kezia Nalwanga’s body, many Ugandans condemned the girls for taking the risk despite having heard reports of harsh treatment there.
Others condemn the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development for entering bilateral agreements with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and others to legalise the exportation of Ugandan girls to countries where they end up getting mistreated. But why do our girls continue to take such a risk?
First, according to the World Bank, Uganda’s youth unemployment stands at 66 per cent. This means that many girls of working age can not find jobs here. This causes desperation and the crave to find means of earning a living for their family and in most cases children. But why did the government sign labour externalisation bi-lateral agreement with some of these countries?
I think the main reason was to regulate labour externalisation and also to get commitment from recipient countries to protect the rights of our girls there. The biggest challenge, however, is putting into practice the regulation by the receiving countries.
In the first place, the recruiting agencies in Uganda, have nothing to do with determining the welfare of the workers abroad. They can negotiate with the agency in the receiving country and that’s where it ends. The domestic workers employment system (the Khafala system) in Middle East countries allows the employer to determine welfare, freedom and dignity of the worker. So in cases where the relationship between worker and the employer gets bad, the employer becomes the judge.
Having paid a big amount of money to the employment agency for the maid, the employer may not be willing to let her go back as the agency may not provide a replacement or refund the money. In such a situation, the maid has to do the job no matter the situation.
The rights of domestic workers have to be protected by the recipient governments by compelling the family employer to be more accountable for the welfare of their employees.
The governments should provide clear communication channels through which the affected maids can report to it their concerns with ease. This is crucial because it will enable the affected girls to be easily located and tracked with a view to assisting them.