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How lawmakers are fighting domestic abuse against immigrants. African officials are playing their part, yet many young people from sub-Saharan countries are falling victim regardless.

How lawmakers are fighting domestic abuse against immigrants. African officials are playing their part, yet many young people from sub-Saharan countries are falling victim regardless.

Countries in the Middle East are notorious for violence against women. Some of the forms of violence perpetrated include rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and physical abuse.

An estimated 30 per cent of women living and working in the Middle East have experienced physical violence at some point in their lives. Yet thousands of women from all over the world continue to be lured to the region with the promise of steady jobs, only to be tortured and abused by unaccountable employers.

Nevertheless, awareness, documentation of domestic abuse cases, and laws to prevent domestic abuse or helping workers who embark on long journeys to work as house helps differ from country to country in Africa. However, all the current efforts are geared towards reducing the problem by dissuading citizens from seeking low-paid employment abroad.

Suspend agencies

Employment agencies have been banned temporarily from recruiting Ghanaians for domestic work in Gulf countries, the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations has said.

At a stakeholders’ meeting on legal migration organised by the Ghana Association of Private Employment Agencies (GHAPEA) in Accra in June 2017, Ignatius Baffour Awuah said the temporary ban was just one measure to help reduce the many reported cases of abuse faced by Ghanaians working in such countries.

The Minister said he had instructed the Labour Department not to issue further licences to employment agencies to engage in such business.

The deputy head of the Anti-Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), Assistant Superintendent Alberta Ampofo, has also advised licensed employment agencies to abide by the labour and migration laws in Ghana.

The chairman of GHAPEA, Alhaji Saeed Shereef, also urged immigration and employment agents to join forces with the association to put a stop to illegal recruitment of Ghanaians to foreign countries.

“The only way to deal with this menace, which is wreaking havoc in our dear country, is for all stakeholders to come together and come up with a comprehensive plan,” Alhaji Shereef said.

Helpline of Hope

In December last year, the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, inaugurated the Helpline of Hope Call Centre at a ceremony organised by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Through the initiative of the then Minister, Otiko Afisah Djaba, working in conjunction with the World Bank, the Helpline of Hope Call Centre forms part of the Single-Window Citizens’ System to report complaints of all forms of abuse, including domestic abuse against Ghanaian immigrants in the Middle East.

The helpline, which is open round the clock, redirects callers to the appropriate quarters for the attention they need on a time-bound basis. Multilingual customer support is available.

The Helpline of Hope Call Centre receives as a matter of importance, complaints from aggrieved individuals, and aims to offer proper redress. Some of the allegations it handles involve child abuse, rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child labour and physical assault.

Lines of communication to the centre include toll-free phone calls, SMS, email and visits in person, in certain cases, to designated bodies: district social welfare and community development offices, regional social welfare units, community focal persons/CLIC members and social protection (SP) programme offices.

In cases of domestic abuse against Ghanaian immigrants, victims ‒ or the family and friends of victims ‒ the can contact the Helpline of Hope, which works to provide immediate help.

Outside Ghana

After passing a new law to guard against ill-treatment of their citizens in Middle Eastern countries, Ethiopia lifted the ban on domestic workers moving overseas in February. An agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ethiopia to protect the rights of domestic workers is to be formalised by the end of the year.

Kenya, which has the second largest number of immigrants working as domestics in the Middle East, has tightened its laws to ensure the safety of Kenyans going to work in such countries, after lifting a ban imposed in 2014. In addition, hiring agencies are required to furnish the government with quarterly reports on how many people they have enlisted within the period and their personal details.

Emma Mbura is a Kenyan senator who previously worked as a nanny in the UAE, where she witnessed rampant abuse and harassment of African domestic workers. She is now a tireless advocate against domestic abuse of workers in the Middle East and co-operates with the Kenyan government to rescue Kenyan nationals who are stuck abroad in situations of distress.

The Ugandan government has also initiated processes to impose a national ban on export of labour to countries of the Gulf region, as there are still frequent incidents involving abuse of Ugandan citizens in Middle Eastern countries.

Raise awareness

The Human Trafficking Act is a law which aims to prevent, reduce and punish human trafficking, and to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of trafficked persons as well as for matters.

“People who end up being rescued are sent to rehabilitation centres or, if full, to hotels. They are well taken care of till recovery,” Otiko Djaba, the former Minister of Gender, Children and social Protection, said.

“More awareness is and will be created on issues like this to let people know Ghana is the best place for its people,” she said.

Domestic workers in the Middle East recount terrible personal stories, most of which have been found to be true. Yet there are many Ghanaians employed as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon, living side by side with other Ghanaians and employed comfortably. Not everyone who takes up employment in the Gulf suffers an ill fate.

The Gulf states have their share of the good, the bad and the ugly. Yet there are too many reports of abuse emerging from these countries. Although African lawmakers are playing their part, many people from sub-Saharan countries are falling victim regardless, young and old. The abuses are mostly the product of ignorance and desperation.

Speaking to recruitment agencies signing up young Ghanaian women to work in the Middle Easts, I started to be able to differentiate between the ones that were rip-off operations and not offering an authentic service, but still publishing tempting offers, and those which are genuine. More light must be thrown on recruitment agencies, as they are usually responsible for recruits’ fate once assigned to the foreign employers.

The licensed agencies are more regulated and reliable, and there is greater security for the maids on their books. However, the “connection men” types wreak most havoc. These are mostly cowboy operators who trick innocent ladies into believing they are going to work as secretaries, office assistants and hairdressers, but then throw them to the maid recruitment agencies once they arrive at their destination.

Many take huge fees from the women under the pretext of securing them a job as anything but a maid. Once the women arrive in the destination country, however, they can no longer be contacted.

Educating the public on recruitment agencies and how to differentiate between the good and the bad will go a long way to reduce the numbers of people who pay good money, only to become slaves.

* Call the Helpline of Hope Call Centre toll-free on 0800 800 800 or 0800 900 900. Or contact the centre by SMS short code (8020) or email. Otherwise, you can visit selected advice centres in person, such as your regional/district social welfare and community development office.