Human trafficking in Saudi Arabia
With respect to human trafficking, Saudi Arabia was designated, together with Bolivia, Ecuador, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Burma, Jamaica, Venezuela, Cambodia, Kuwait, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, and Togo, as a Tier 3 country by the United States Department of State in its 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report required by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 on which this article was originally based. Tier 3 countries are "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so." The 2006 report shows some effort by the Kingdom to address the problems, but continues to classify the Kingdom as a Tier 3 country. The report recommends, "The government should enforce existing Islamic laws that forbid the mistreatment of women, children, and laborers..." Both the 2007 and the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Reports designate Saudi Arabia as a Tier 3 country.
The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government continues to lack adequate anti-trafficking laws, and, despite evidence of widespread trafficking abuses, did not report any criminal prosecutions, convictions, or prison sentences for trafficking crimes committed against foreign domestic workers. The government similarly did not take law enforcement action against trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in Saudi Arabia, or take any steps to provide victims of sex trafficking with protection. The Saudi government also made no discernable effort to employ procedures to identify and refer victims to protective services.
Saudi Arabia is a destination for men and women from South East Asia and East Africa trafficked for the purpose of labor exploitation, and for children from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Africa trafficking for forced begging. Hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers from Pakistan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya migrate voluntarily to Saudi Arabia; some fall into conditions of involuntary servitude, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the withholding of travel documents, restrictions on their freedom of movement and non-consensual contract alterations. According to international organizations such as Ansar Burney Trust, young children from Bangladesh and India are also smuggled to Saudi Arabia to be used as jockeys. The children are underfed to reduce their weights, in order to lighten the load on the camel.
The Government of Saudi Arabia does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Saudi Arabia has moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3 because of its lack of progress in anti-trafficking efforts, particularly its failure to protect victims and prosecute those guilty of involuntary servitude. Despite reports of trafficking and abuses of domestic and other unskilled workers and children, there is evidence of only one Saudi Government prosecution of a Saudi employer for a trafficking-related offense during the reporting period. Some victims of abuse, due to procedural hurdles, choose to leave the country rather than confront their abusers in court. They are required first to file a complaint with the police before they are allowed access to shelters. The government offers no legal aid to foreign victims and does not otherwise assist them in using the Saudi criminal justice system to bring their exploiters to justice. If a victim chooses to file a complaint, he or she is not allowed to work. The Saudi Government does, however, provide food and shelter for female workers who file complaints or run away from their employers. Criminal cases are adjudicated under Sharia law, and there is no evidence trafficking victims are accorded legal assistance before and during Sharia legal proceedings.
There is limited evidence indicating that the government improved its prosecution efforts in 2004. Saudi Arabia lacks laws criminalizing most trafficking offenses. Most abuses involving foreign workers are dealt with by Islamic law, royal decrees, and ministerial resolutions; few are submitted to criminal prosecution. Domestic workers, which comprise a significant portion of the foreign workforce, are excluded from protection under Saudi labor laws. Most cases involving trafficking or abuse of foreign workers are settled out of court through mediation. In 2004, there were reports of Philippine female domestic workers raped; however, there were no reports of prosecutions. In 2004, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labor issued resolutions, among other things, prohibiting trading in work visas, employing and exploiting children, and recruiting for begging. It investigated some cases of abusive employers and instituted a tracking system. To date, 30 abusive employers have been barred from hiring workers. The government provides training for police officers to recognize and handle cases of foreign worker abuse.
The Saudi Government has not improved its efforts to protect victims of trafficking but continues to operate three shelters for abused female expatriate workers in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam. It also operates facilities for abandoned children, including trafficking victims, in Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina. However, the government does not provide shelter to adult male workers. There are no NGOs working with trafficking victims. The government mediates disputes and alleged abuses of foreign workers — including complaints of a criminal nature — and seeks to return victims to their home countries without adequately investigating and prosecuting crimes committed against them.
Saudi Arabia’s limited efforts to prevent trafficking include: distributing information at embassies abroad, licensing and regulating the activities of recruitment agencies, monitoring immigration patterns and visa issuance, and promoting awareness through the media and religious authorities. The government has begun working with UNICEF and the Yemeni Government to prevent trafficking of children for begging. A plan envisioned several years ago to distribute information to foreign workers at Saudi Arabian airports upon arrival has not been implemented. Religious leaders have preached in mosques sermons about the evil of abusing employees.
In 2008 Saudi controlled media mounted a public relations campaign advocating compassionate treatment of domestic employees and foreign workers. The campaign was controversial with critics complaining that it presented a negative view of Saudi behavior.
Events in the United States
Saudi Arabians who travel or reside abroad may be accompanied by servants who are held in servitude. It was reported in June 2005 in The Denver Post that a Saudi couple who resided in Aurora, Colorado had been accused of keeping their Indonesian maid in captivity for 4 years forcing her to cook and clean. Homaidan Al-Turki, the husband, was also accused of repeatedly raping the young woman. According to law enforcement authorities: the maid's passport had been taken from her; she was paid about $2.00 a day; rapes occurred on a weekly basis. The maid entered the couples service at 17 through an Indonesian employment agency as a domestic worker. She flew to Riyadh and entered their service at a promised pay of $160 a month, but according to prosecutors had received only $3,300 for four years of work. The couple moved to the United States in 2000 accompanied by their maid. The couple was originally charged in federal court with involuntary servitude, punishable in cases involving sexual assault with life in prison. The husband was also charged in state court with multiple counts of sexual assault. The husband was convicted of 12 counts of forced sexual assault, two misdemeanors related to forced imprisonment, and theft for keeping the maid's wages and sentenced to 27 years to life. The case was a high profile one in Saudi Arabia, where the press portrayed him as a victim of Islamophobia. The Saudi government posted bail of $400,000. In November 2006, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers travelled to Saudi Arabia where he met with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan to clear up "misperceptions" about the U.S. judicial system. His trip was sponsored by the US State Department. Al-Turki's wife, Sarah Khonaizan, who plead guilty to reduced state and federal charges, is to be deported from the US. Following the state conviction, federal charges against Al-Turki were dropped.
Another case involved Princess Buniah Al Saud, niece of Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who was arrested in Orlando, Florida and accused of pushing her Indonesian maid down a flight of stairs. The criminal case was resolved by a plea bargain to misdemeanor assault and payment of a small fine after the maid was refused a visa after traveling to Indonesia to her mother's funeral. The US Department of State has refused to explain their refusal to allow a material witness in a criminal case entry to the United States to testify. A civil suit for wages was settled.
A third allegation involved Hana Al Jader of Boston, Massachusetts who was accused of stealing the passports of 2 Indonesian women and forcing them to work as domestic servants.
A fourth allegiation involved the Saudi Diplomatic Mission in Mclean, VA, where two persons were removed from the property after notifying locals about their slave-like conditions and abuse at the mansion in May of 2013.
- Adapted from the United States Department of State publication, "Trafficking in Persons Report 2005"
- "Man was convicted of sexual assaults on housekeeper" Rocky Mountain News September 1, 2006
- "Saudi Gets 27 Years to Life for Enslaving Maid" Arab News"
- U.S. Code, Title 18, Chapter 77 Peonage and Slavery
- Boston.com - Saudi princess pleads guilty to immigration violations - by Shelley Murphy 05/09/06
- "Slave-holding and Terror Links in Colorado"
- Sri Lankan Maids in Saudi Arabia
- 2010 State Department report
- Trafficking in Persons Report 2008
- "Saudi campaign against maid abuse: A Saudi Arabian campaign against the abuse of domestic workers in the country has sparked controversy." article by Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC Arab Affairs Analyst, on BBC News
- "Suthers reassures Saudis:Feds back Suthers' trip to explain case of captive nanny", Rocky Mountain News, November 18, 2006
- "Sex-slave case apparently over: Prosecutors ask to drop federal charges against Saudi man" Rocky Mountain News, September 8, 2006
- "Two removed from Saudi diplomatic mansion in McLean after human trafficking accusations" , WTOP, May 2, 2013