Zimbabwean women ‘trapped, underpaid and beaten’ as foreigners endure abusive working conditions

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Several Zimbabwean women are allegedly trapped in abusive working conditions after going abroad to look for employment as domestic workers under the Kafala visa sponsorship system in Oman, in the Middle East.

The Kafala system of employment ties domestic workers to employers who bring them to Oman and they cannot move to new jobs before their contracts end.

An article published in the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper included a report from Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United Arab of Emirates (UAE), Lovemore Mazemo, quoting him as saying the women were forced to work up to 18 hours a day, underpaid, not allowed to leave the house, denied sufficient food and had their passports taken away.

“Some of the challenges that they are facing include working for between 15 to 18 hours per day with no rest; no off days even when one is sick; salaries are not paid in full or on time; being forced to work for large extended families; confiscation of passports by employers; physical assaults and verbal abuses; confinement to the house for long periods of time; denial of adequate food as well as the inability to leave an employer and work for another one before the end of their two-year contracts.

“As a way forward, the embassy strongly recommends that the department of social welfare should consider taking action to rescue some of the maids by raising the money which the employers of the maids are demanding back.

“Two of the maids are now displaying suicidal mentalities much to the fear of Zimbabweans in Oman. The two maids openly told consular officers that they were seriously considering committing suicide as a way to end their suffering and enslavement. The government may wish to consider banning Zimbabwean nationals from migrating to Oman to work as maids,” the report read.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the kafala system as abusive and exploitive.

It proposed the system be abolished.

Zimbabwe’s information secretary Nick Mangwana said the government was in the process of repatriating the Zimbabwean women who were trapped in Oman.

“Government is seized with the issue of repatriating 30 Zimbabwean ladies who travelled to Oman to work as domestic workers under a ‘sponsorship’ programme known as the kafala system. This is servitude and the public is warned against travelling to work under this arrangement. It’s slavery,” said Mangwana.

In 2016, the Zimbabwean government repatriated dozens of women who worked in domestic servitude in Kuwait.

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