'Nail torture' highlights maid abuse: HRW

Sri Lankan housemaid V. R. Lechchami, 38, lies on her hospital bed in the northwestern town of Kurunegala. Lechchami, underwent surgery to remove nine out of the 14 nails inside her body. The doctor said the woman had told surgeons that her Kuwaiti employers drove the nails into her hands and left leg - some as long as 3.5 centimetres (1.5 inches) - when she asked for her salary after working for six months. (AFP)

Human Rights Watch Tuesday urged Middle Eastern states to protect migrant workers after two Sri Lankan maids returned from the region with shocking stories of torture by their employers.

The New York-based rights group said accusations by three Sri Lankan maids that they were forced to swallow nails or had nails driven into their bodies highlighted a broad pattern of abuse of migrant domestic workers.

"The wanton brutality alleged in these cases is shocking, but reports of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and labour exploitation such as non-payment of wages are nothing new," said Nisha Varia, HRW's senior women's rights researcher.

"The governments of Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia need to show they take such allegations seriously, and create accessible ways for domestic workers to report abuse as soon as it happens."

In August, a Sri Lankan housemaid gained worldwide attention after she complained that her Saudi employer drove 24 nails into her arms, legs and forehead as punishment.

Most of them were removed by surgeons at Sri Lanka's Kamburupitiya hospital.

The Saudi government and private sector officials in Riyadh have questioned the credibility of the woman's allegations.

Surgeons on Monday removed the last five wire nails from another Sri Lankan housemaid who accused her Kuwaiti employer of hammering 14 nails into her body when she asked for her salary after working for six months.

The authorities in Colombo are investigating another claim from a third Sri Lankan maid in Jordan who has alleged that she was forced to swallow six nails when she demanded her salary.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Employment Bureau chief, Kingsley Ranawaka, said they were awaiting a medical report to decide on action regarding the woman who is said to have been admitted to a hospital in Amman.

Some 1.8 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad, of whom 70 percent are women. Most work as housemaids in the Middle East while smaller numbers work in Singapore and Hong Kong, seeking higher salaries than they would get at home.
 

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