A Sri Lankan woman working as a domestic in Jordan has been brutally abused by her employer and was hospitalized yesterday after seeking the assistance of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Amman, the Jordan Times reported.
When Ishara Hemanthi arrived in Jordan in November 2008, she hoped that she’d be able to save enough money to help her family in Sri Lanka. But in less than four months, her dreams turned into a nightmare when her employers started to abuse her physically.
She told her story as authorities were mulling tougher measures against abusing employers, including a ban on any future recruitment of domestic helpers.
Despite enduring the daily beatings, the 23-year-old Sri Lankan worker refused to give up hope that life would improve when she became more accustomed to her employer's habits and customs. But the situation only got worse and on Monday Hemanthi ended up in the emergency room with severe bruising and swelling all over her body.
Speaking to The Jordan Times yesterday, the Sri Lankan, who eventually made it to her country’s embassy in search of help and was later taken to hospital, said: "At first they were very nice to me, although they didn't pay the salary that we had agreed upon in the work contract. Four months later, however, things started to change and I have not been paid my salary for the past eight months."
According to the work contract, a copy of which was made available to The Jordan Times, Hemanthi's monthly salary was meant to be $175 but she claimed that her employer paid her only $100 for the first four months of her work.
Her suffering, said Hemanthi, began four months after she started working for her employer, who is living with his wife and a 12-year-old daughter in the capital.
"They would whip me with a phone cord or a water nozzle, and sometimes would pull my hair if I did not finish the tasks they had set for me during the day," the mother of a five-year-old son said, adding that she wanted to escape to the embassy a long time ago but her employer threatened to report her to the police for robbery if she did so.
Hemanthi described how her working day would start at 6:00am and last until 6:00pm. However, many times, her employer would set her additional tasks such as cleaning the windows, the kitchen or folding the laundry.
"Most days I would only get to sleep long after 12 midnight," she said, adding that life was unbearable for her.
"They would not let me take my weekly day off, which is guaranteed by the Labour Law, or call my family."
Last August, a new amendment included domestic helpers under the Labour Law, to be treated on equal footing with Jordanian workers in terms of medical care, timely payment of wages and subscription to the Social Security Corporation.
Hemanthi claimed she was banned from calling home since she arrived last year. "Whenever any of my family members called, the employer would tell them that it was a wrong number.”
Repeated efforts by The Jordan Times to contact Hemanthi’s employer went unanswered and the recruitment agency that brought her to the country was not available for comment.
Hemanthi is one of 69 Sri Lankan domestic helpers who have sought refuge at the Sri Lankan embassy after fleeing employers for various reasons, including sexual harassment, physical abuse and unpaid salaries, according to embassy officials.
Another is 30-year-old Champika Hemali, who has been looked after by the embassy for the past 45 days.
Hemali told The Jordan Times yesterday that she came to Jordan in 2001 after it was recommended to her by the same recruitment agency that had secured her a similar job in Lebanon, where she had worked for three years.
"When I left Sri Lanka, my daughter was only three years old. Every time I would ask my employer to let me go home and see my little daughter he refused. My daughter is now 12 and I miss her so much," she said, clutching a photo of her little girl.
She added that her employer used to beat her and make her work for his relatives, doing the work of four people.
"It was too much and I couldn’t keep up with it. So I decided to escape but I didn’t know how until one day at the grocery I met a Sri Lankan friend of mine who notified my mother and in return my mother informed the embassy about my situation," she said.
Hemali claimed that her employer has not paid her salary for many years, adding that all she is concerned with now is going back home and seeing her daughter.
Sri Lankan Ambassador in Amman Andrayas Mohottala said that they informed the Labour Ministry about Hemanthi’s case. He said that when complaints are filed by workers, they call for a multi-party meeting bringing all concerned parties together in order to discuss the problems and the workers' complaints.
Mohottala said: "There needs to be an intensive awareness campaign among Jordanians with regards to domestic helpers. They are human beings and not machines. They deserve to be treated as humans."
Embassy officials said they had also informed the National Centre for Human Rights about Hemanthi’s case, which they described as a clear violation of human rights.
The Labour Ministry's director of recruitment of domestic helpers, Amjad Weshah, told The Jordan Times yesterday that the ministry plans to adopt a new system, under which employers proven to be violating domestic helpers' rights would be blacklisted and banned from future recruitment of domestic helpers. He said the ministry had not yet been informed of Hemanthi’s case.
In September, domestic worker abuses came into the spotlight when authorities began an investigation into the case of an Indonesian domestic helper suffering from tuberculosis (TB), who was allegedly abandoned by her employer near the Amman Health Directorate.
At the time, 28-year-old Aminah was bleeding due to an advanced TB infection and only weighed 20 kilogrammes. She was transported by the health authorities to Al Noor Centre for TB patients in Mafraq for treatment, and Health Ministry officials say she is recuperating.
According to official figures, around 30,000 Sri Lankan and 25,000 Indonesian domestic helpers are working in the country.