A video of a Bangladeshi domestic worker describing the abuse she faces in a Saudi household has sparked shock-waves online. One might not comprehend her Bengali words but the outpouring tears and the fear etched on her face sufficiently demonstrate the extent of the pain she continues to live through.
Her name is Sumi Akter and her story is similar to that of countless migrant domestic workers facing human rights violations under the controversial kafala system across the Arab world.
The 25-year-old reportedly lives with her Saudi employers in Jeddah. In the video, she reportedly says the latter physically assault her, lock her up, and starve her for weeks. They also subject her to "merciless sexual assault."
"I perhaps won't live longer. Please save me. They locked me up for 15 days and barely gave me any food. They hit me and then burned my arms with hot oil," she says, as translated by the Middle East Eye.
Akter, who made a desperate plea to return home, says she had also been "tortured" by her previous employers and the abuse persisted at the hands of her current employers.
Speaking to ِAgence France-Presse (AFP), Akter's husband said he had tried to return her home but his efforts have not been fruitful. According to AFP, the Bangladeshi government called upon its Saudi counterpart to take the necessary measures to guarantee Akter's repatriation.
Akter's struggle came to light soon after the body of fellow Bangladeshi migrant worker Nazma Begum was repatriated in late October. Prior to her death due to an "untreated illness," 42-year-old Begum had reportedly begged her son to rescue her from her abusive employers.
Both Akter and Begum were lured into Saudi Arabia and promised jobs as hospital janitors, after which they were forced to work as domestic workers.
"Saudi Arabia admitted some people are being victimized. But that is happening for a few handfuls of people. The Saudi government isn't making them victims," Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters on Thursday, according to France24.
Not the first incident of its kind
Since 1991, around 300,000 Bangladeshi women have traveled to work in the kingdom, many of whom have reported being physically and sexually abused in Saudi households. Remittances are the second biggest source of income for Bangladesh's economy, according to the Middle East Eye.
The Saudi kingdom adopts the kafala system, which "gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers and leaves workers vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor," according to the Human Rights Watch. The sponsorship system legally binds domestic workers to their employers, giving them very limited legal protection. The widely-condemned system exists in different forms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
According to Al Jazeera, at least 66 Bangladeshi female workers have died in Saudi Arabia over the past four years, 52 of whom had committed suicide.