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Recruiters order SL women to take contraceptives before working in Gulf

6 April 2018 11:47 am - 19     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Sri Lankan women who take up domestic work in the Middle East (ME) to support families devastated by conflict are being targeted by recruitment agents who order them to take contraceptives before leaving, the Guardian reported on Friday.

Six recruiters licensed by the Sri Lankan government has said they could provide an employer with a “three-month guarantee” that a maid would not become pregnant.

An agent from Gulf Jobs in Colombo said: “Before we can send a maid, there is a medical check-up by the government and no one can influence that. But once the medical test is done … there is a device we can give them. If you want it, we can arrange it.”

While no women were prepared to speak openly about being forced to take contraceptives, the Guardian has found that many recruitment agencies make migrant workers take Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive that lasts for three months.

Rahini Bhaskaran, coordinator of Migrants Network, a migrant rights organisation, said women were so desperate for work that they complied unquestioningly with the stipulations of recruiters.

“Most women don’t know what the injections are for. They are not told anything about it,” she said.

Bhaskaran believes the contraceptive serves a double purpose: covering up potential sexual assaults by recruitment agents and serving as a guarantee to prospective employers in the Gulf that workers will not get pregnant.

“Some women think it’s necessary … to have sex with the agents to go abroad. The agents coax women, even promising marriage in some cases, and then abuse them,” said Bhaskaran.

Typically single, divorced or widowed, or married to men who are no longer able to work, the women are victims of a growing pattern of abuse and coercion by agents and employers.


The experience of Saroja is indicative of the abusive behaviour that many endure. In 2016, a man turned up at her home in a small village in the north with the offer of a job in the Middle East.

“They came looking for me. They told me I could earn well if I went abroad and that they could help me to look after my family,” she said.

Saroja’s son was ill and the war had left her husband disabled and her five sisters widowed.

Struggling to shoulder the burden of caring for her extended family single-handedly, she accepted the offer. She sold her jewellery to pay the agency the equivalent of 200 euros for training, and left her village in Jaffna to take up employment as a household maid in Saudi Arabia.

But Saroja found it impossible to keep up with the cooking and cleaning required for the family of 12. She couldn’t send any money home to her family because she was never paid. Then her demanding boss turned abusive.

“My employer, he started beating me. I complained and he ripped off my clothes and I was just left in my underwear,” she said.

Tamil women who endure such ordeals abroad are often stigmatised, as the need to work counters cultural tradition. Nonetheless, there are, and recruitment agencies fly in 40,000 foreign women a month to keep up with demand.

“People are forced to do these things because of economic problems,” said S. Senthurajah, executive director of Sond, an organisation that raises awareness of migration issues.

“Women have far less opportunities here for employment. If she’s poor or a widow, she’s excluded from the community. We do our best, but it’s not enough,” he said.

According to Senthurajah, the dangers have become accepted to the point where it is almost expected that women who migrate to work in the Middle East will face abuse or assault at the hands of their employers.

“When a woman goes abroad it’s implicit she’s going to be sexually active. The chance is high for abuse,” he said.

Swairee Rupasinghe, coordinator for labour migration at the International Labour Organisation in Sri Lanka, said there was an economic imperative for recruiters to make women take contraceptives.

“I see why the recruitment agencies organise it – because if found pregnant they would have to bare the cost of repatriation of the worker, so it’s in their interest to enforce it,” said Rupasinghe.

Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said migrant domestic workers in the Gulf are treated as commodities by agencies and employers to the extent that their bodies and their choices are no longer theirs at the point of migration.

“When they go into employment, it’s this power dynamic that allows exploitation and abuse to flourish.”

After eight months in Saudi Arabia, Saroja eventually arrived home with less than a dollar in her pocket.

“The agency keeps coming back telling me how poor we are and that I should go back for my children,” she said.

“But I’ll never go back to Saudi Arabia again. I got nothing from it except pain. I’m holding on to life just because of my children,” she said.

  Comments - 19

  • Libtard Friday, 06 April 2018 12:35 PM

    We import everything, sell all stratergic assets that has the potential to make money, and then export our citizen as slaves. Sad thing is our citizen cheer and vote when the government goes in the same failed path.

    Jehan Friday, 06 April 2018 12:37 PM

    I thought we were exporting our poor women as slaves. Looks like we have been exporting them as sex slaves.

    tony Friday, 06 April 2018 12:44 PM

    Why not give them a chastity belt free of charge and castrate all male recruiting agents.

    Kumar Friday, 06 April 2018 12:52 PM

    Human Rights abuse. The government must take action against this abuse.

    patriot Friday, 06 April 2018 01:27 PM

    It is a sin money in fact which a country gets from their overseas female workers as Foreign Remittances which governments proudly announces every year .

    MO77 Friday, 06 April 2018 06:36 PM

    Now, government want to tax 5% of the mount of money when they sending to Sri Lanka and 4% of interest on NRFC accounts.

    Saman Friday, 06 April 2018 01:34 PM

    Are they recruiting for prostitution? Government are you aware of this? Or aware but OK with this?

    Lawry Friday, 06 April 2018 01:54 PM

    Strange that no reader has made a comment on this article. Either the heading packed the lunch to arouse curiosity or our people don't care for these people who earn money for Sri Lanka

    kamalhot1 Friday, 06 April 2018 02:01 PM

    No any political leader worry about these, they need only power and money, do all the trick and treats to be in power, what a tragedy? Why any media ask these questions from political leaders, where are the protest against these kind, where are our sensitive so called leaders. fed up being a Sri Lankan.

    VJ Friday, 06 April 2018 02:13 PM

    I think the message is to avoid conceiving prior to deployment. There is a possibility she may not know she is pregnant until after arriving in the work place.

    REEZ Friday, 06 April 2018 05:25 PM

    You are correct. This DP injection is given to avoid pregnancy before departure.

    rajitha7 Friday, 06 April 2018 06:01 PM

    Apparently, there is an acute skills shortage in Sri Lanka. Why not train these women and find them work here?

    Tourist Friday, 06 April 2018 08:53 PM

    I understand the maids from Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and the Muslims. No northern Tamil girl joins this maid convoy from Sri Lanka. This shows the Tamils have decency and self pride.

    will Saturday, 07 April 2018 06:47 PM

    @tourist,this is your point of view,but its not racial problem, its mainly due to poorness,but sometimes due to cultural reasons there may be less number of maids from north

    SL Friday, 06 April 2018 06:31 PM

    I strongly oppose sending women as house maids to Gulf.Let them work here in Garment sector which is already suffering from lack of women employees

    Dee Friday, 06 April 2018 07:28 PM

    Been trying hard to find a domestic to live in and work. Even 30K won't work. They simply want to go 'ABROAD' . That's the main issue. Because it's seen as a come down to work as a domestic in SL. But willing to do anything if 'ABROAD'!

    raz Friday, 06 April 2018 10:04 PM

    why the commenting people don't understand the issue.it's to verify that she doesn't get pregnant for thr relationship she had with her partner before leaving. If she get pregnancy she cannot stay there.People should think and blame.

    pali Saturday, 07 April 2018 06:21 PM

    government should consider this news very seriously,even better start a separate ministry for this kind of issues,but better deprive their travel by educating about the possible risk waiting,though poor,less educated,may be bottom of the social strata , they are our sisters, relatives,please take this seriously,religious leaders come out and work out strategy to bring peace to these wailing families

    Malith Sunday, 08 April 2018 11:25 AM

    Nice rip off from the Guardian. You make us proud, daily mirror

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