In the latest reported incident of abuse targeting Filipino workers in the Arab world, a domestic worker was left in critical condition after her employer forced her to drink bleach.
The assault was revealed by the Foreign Ministry of the Philippines who released an official statement accusing a Saudi employer of horrifically abusing a Filipina domestic worker earlier this month, The Straits Times reported.
In the announcement, which was made on Monday, officials said the victim, now identified as Agnes Mancilla, "underwent emergency abdominal surgery after she was taken, unconscious, to a hospital in Saudi's south-western Jizan city on April 2."
"We are working closely with authorities in Jizan to make sure that justice will be given to Agnes Mancilla," the statement added.
According to Edgar Badajos, the Philippine consul in the Saudi city of Jeddah, Mancilla has been working in Saudi Arabia since 2016 and had constantly been subjected to physical abuse by her female employer. She was also not paid her salary.
Saudi authorities have since arrested the employer
Officials explained that Mancilla is currently in the hospital, citing her condition as "serious but stable."
They also added that Saudi police quickly arrested her female employer, who has not yet been named.
Filipino authorities in the kingdom are now communicating with police in Jizan and closely following up on the investigation launched into the case.
The abuse case, which sparked intense backlash in the Philippines, comes just weeks after the country's President, Rodrigo Duterte, had a diplomatic row with Kuwaiti officials after the body of a murdered Filipina worker was found in her employer's freezer.
At the time, Duterte banned all nationals from traveling to the Gulf state and also asked Filipinos living in the country to leave.
After demanding that Kuwait signs a new legislation to protect Filipino workers in the country, Duterte announced that Kuwaiti officials agreed to his demands and will soon be signing an agreement to secure better rights for them.
"I believe the Philippines has all the right to protest this case"
In a statement to StepFeed, Sarah, a Saudi activist who works with abused domestic workers spoke of the most recently reported case.
“While it is shocking to many, similar cases are not uncommon in the kingdom and elsewhere across the Arab world. I have worked with tens of domestic workers who had to endure verbal, physical and at time even sexual abuse. I believe the Philippines has all the right to protest this case and other similar ones, they surely need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their nationals in the kingdom, just as our country would do if we were the ones working abroad,” she said.
“When they pushed for reforms for Filipino workers based in Kuwait a while back, that lead to several positive changes and I believe the same is set to happen in Saudi. These horrific assaults against people who left their own families to make a living here must end. This will only happen when a fundamental change is made to the laws that govern domestic worker rights in the kingdom,” she added.
Sarah also stressed that people must avoid generalizing when it comes to the issue of domestic worker abuse in Saudi and other Arab countries.
“Generalizing would be truly unjust here. Even though I know there are families who abuse their helpers, I also know many others who treat them just as they should, with kindness and compassion,” she explained.
What's the system that currently governs domestic workers in Saudi?
Like the majority of Arab countries, Saudi Arabia hosts domestic workers in the country under the kafala system.
According to Human Rights Watch, this "system gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers," leaving them "vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor."
The sponsorship system, which has been called "modern-day slavery" by rights groups, legally binds domestic workers to their employers, giving them very limited legal protection.
Under it, domestic workers across the region are left exposed to human rights violations.
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.
There's a very long way ahead before they are given the most basic of rights they are entitled to.