On Sunday, a Kuwaiti criminal court sentenced an Arab couple to death by hanging over the murder of a Filipina domestic worker.

The death sentence was issued in absentia during the first court hearing of the case. It comes a couple months after the body of Joanna Demafelis, a 29-year-old domestic worker, was found in a freezer in the couple's Kuwaiti flat in February.

Authorities suspect the victim was tortured to death by the tenants of the flat, a Lebanese man and a Syrian woman, who have since fled the country, Khaleej Times reported.

The death sentence may be appealed if the couple returns to Kuwait, a source said, according to media reports.

The Lebanese-Syrian couple, identified as Mona Hassoun and Nader Essam Assaf, were both arrested in Damascus following an investigative Interpol search in February.

Reports reveal that Assaf was also wanted for several other cases, such as issuing dud cheques. Following the arrest in the Syrian capital, authorities in the country handed Assaf over to Lebanese authorities, according to Al Araby.

The victim arrived in Kuwait in 2014 to work for the suspects. Authorities believe she died by strangulation or torture. The body was discovered after the flat's owner acquired a court order to forcibly evict the tenants for not paying rent.

In response, the Philippines enforced a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.

According to DW, the Philippines has more than 250,000 nationals working in Kuwait, with the majority working in homes.

The kafala systemwhich has been labeled by Human Rights Watch as a "sponsored gateway to human trafficking" - has been criticized heavily over the years.

The system exists in different forms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

According to Human Rights Watch, it's a "system that gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers and leaves workers vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor."

The sponsorship system legally binds domestic workers to their employers, giving them very limited legal protection.

Under that system, domestic workers across the region are left exposed to human rights violations. Rendered helpless and desperate to escape dire situations, many often resort to suicide.

56% of suicides in Kuwait in 2013 were committed by domestic workers

Across the GCC, domestic worker suicide rates are extremely high. 

Statistics compiled by Migrant Rights revealed that 56 percent of suicides in Kuwait in 2013 were committed by domestic workers. In that same year, the rate stood at 66 percent in Saudi Arabia.

Numbers also revealed that "700 migrant worker suicides were recorded in the UAE between 2007 and 2013."

While a few Arab countries have taken steps to abolish or reform the kafala system, thousands of migrant domestic workers in the region are still treated as commodities.