There are an estimated 6000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Kuwait (GSI 2018). Men and women migrate from South and Southeast Asia, Egypt, the Middle East, and increasingly throughout Africa to work in Kuwait, predominantly in the domestic service, construction, hospitality, and sanitation sectors. The vast majority of migrant workers arrive voluntarily; however, upon arrival some sponsors subject migrants to forced labour, including through non-payment of wages, protracted working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and the withholding of passports. Many of the migrant workers arriving in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to labour recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labour broker fees in Kuwait which, according to Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer—a practice making workers highly vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage. To a lesser extent, migrant women are also subjected to forced prostitution.
Prudence was offered a teaching job in Kuwait, making twice as much as she was making in Uganda. However, upon arrival her passport was confiscated and she was told to start cleaning. Prudence was subjected to verbal abuse daily, with other women working there suffering physical abuse. Though she wanted to leave, her employers told her she had to finish her contract. A contract she had not signed. Prudence’s luck changed one day when the family she worked with invited some friends to dinner who brought their own maid, also a Ugandan woman. Prudence told this woman about her abuse and was encouraged to get out. One morning while the family was sleeping, Prudence quietly left the house.
I was so excited. I thought when I got there, maybe get the money, I’ll be able to support my boy.
You are told they will give you food and shelter. Save, and come back and do something important.
[when Prudence arrived in Kuwait, her passport was taken and she was told to start cleaning]
And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I used to have a housemaid back home. And now I’m working in someone’s house.
And they’re like ‘No you’re not supposed to go, you are supposed to finish the contract’. They’re talking about a contract I have not even signed.
I can’t say I wouldn’t go back. If they change the system that is there, I’ll be free to go back.
Narrative provided by Public Radio International