How Indian Female Workers Are Being Trafficked To The Gulf

To understand the crisis of these women, we need to understand first how they are trafficked & their circumstances.

4 min read
How Indian Female Workers Are Being Trafficked To The Gulf

The number of Indian female domestic workers who emigrate to the Gulf is gradually falling. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) record, it has fallen from 1,112 in 2015, to just 464 in 2018. This trend shows that either the women are emigrating without obtaining proper emigration clearance, or the ones who had travelled through a tourist visa have stayed back to work illegally.

To have a clearer understanding of human trafficking that female labour migrants often fall victim to, it is necessary to understand the term ‘pushing’. Understanding ‘pushing’ in this context, enables us to see through the strategies used for sending irregular/undocumented emigrants, and the consequences.


Of Dubious Middlemen & Agents

‘Pushing’ can be explained through one of the cases explained by a government official who requested anonymity: “Many female workers from Hyderabad travel to the Gulf via Mumbai airport despite the availability of international connecting flights from Hyderabad. This can be owed to the active involvement of various illegal factors such as unofficial agents and brokers. These female workers are initially sent to the Gulf through tourist visas but later, they start to work as housemaids on meagre salaries. Thus, there is an increase in exploitation in such cases of irregular migration.”

Unregistered recruiting agents and middlemen — operating at different levels — are the chief arbiters in aiding undocumented Indian female workers reach the Gulf countries.

Initially, the brokers provide them with two visas for their transportation. The first one is a tourist visa for countries such as UAE or Sri Lanka while the second visa is to enter other Gulf countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc. for domestic work.

The middleman who is involved in the trafficking stays only till the woman reaches the Indian airport. After that, it is solely upon the trafficked woman to survive until she reaches the final destination.


Exploited As Housemaids

Fatima, A 33-year-old woman from Karnataka and a victim of trafficking, said: “Though the agent had initially informed me that it was a direct flight to Kuwait, the plans drastically changed later. On reaching Hyderabad, I got to know that it was actually a connecting flight that first stops at Abu Dhabi and then proceeds to Kuwait. The agent informed us that while checking in at the airport, we had to tell the officer on duty that we were going to visit our brothers for three months. I felt uneasy and asked why were we supposed to lie. He replied that it was because I did not possess a matric (10th standard pass) qualification.”

Such trafficking routes result in a scenario where women enter Gulf countries and end up slogging as domestic housemaids with no legal rights or protection.

The life of a trafficked woman in the destination country is based purely on fate and luck.

Another woman, Sumathi (35) from Tamil Nadu, said:

I was forced to work as a maid in a Kuwaiti house. Since it was Ramadan time, I was under heavy work pressure and was tortured by the sponsor. When I tried to escape from the house, I fell from the third floor. I was treated at a hospital in Kuwait for a month and later transferred to Tamil Nadu, where I am receiving the treatment now. I need a minimum of three more months to recover and start walking slowly.

The Debt-Trap

Through this process of ‘pushing’, unregistered agents also indulge in the trafficking of Indian nurses to the Gulf countries where they are made to work as house nurses under the visa of a domestic worker. There is an informal transfer of the work visa into a domestic server visa. This too, ultimately leads to a situation where the nurses are forced to do household work. For instance, Kuwait has a ‘type 20’ visa for domestic servants that is issued to a full time female employee while the ‘type 18’ visa is issued to those who work under employers from the private sector.

Asha (30), a trained nurse from Kerala, emigrated to Kuwait in the hope of working at a hospital on a monthly salary — as promised by her agent.

But in Kuwait, she was made to work as a house nurse. She was also forced to do all the other household activities meant for a domestic worker. On reaching Kuwait, she was stamped with a ‘type 18’ visa. Despite that, she was forced to work as a domestic worker — a category of work that falls under the description of 'type 20’.

Owing to harsh conditions such as a poor family background and an insurmountable debt of Rs 2 lakh (incurred for her emigration), Asha was forced to work in the same house under cruel conditions before she could return to India.

In order to tackle this issue, the priority should be to frame a gender sensitive emigration bill and also rethink the existing emigration clearance rules for safe and protected emigration from India to the Gulf countries.

(Dr Arokkiaraj Heller is currently working as a research associate at Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Kerala (India) under Prof. S Irudaya Rajan. He has a PhD from the Department of Social Work, Delhi University. International migration is his key interest of work. The principal focus of his doctoral research was on unskilled and semi-skilled migrants emigrating from India to the Persian Gulf regions. He has also worked as a research intern at India Centre for Migration (ICM) an autonomous body under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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