Some women and girls being recruited in Viet Nam to serve as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, are suffering sexual abuse and torture, leading a group of UN independent human rights experts on Thursday to call on both nations to curb human trafficking.
“We are seeing traffickers targeting Vietnamese women and girls living in poverty, many of whom are already vulnerable and marginalized. Traffickers operate with impunity”, they said in a statement.
After signing on with labour recruitment companies in Viet Nam, some girls and women found themselves sexually abused, beaten and subjected to torture and other cruel treatments by employers once they arrived in Saudi Arabia.
Often these women are denied food and medical treatment, not paid at all, or paid less than stipulated in their contracts.
Urging the two countries to do more to combat trafficking and to protect these workers, the experts warned that all cooperation should be based on human rights’ principles, and assure accountability.
“Saudi Arabia should bring migrant domestic workers under its labour law protections and extend the reforms of its kafala system to such workers”, they said, referring to a mechanism used to monitor migrant laborers, working primarily in the construction and domestic service sectors.
The group highlighted “truly alarming allegations” that some companies in Viet Nam recruited girls as domestic workers and forged their age on documents, to hide the fact they were children.
They share the case of one 15 year-old Vietnamese girl who became ill because of beatings inflicted by her employer, who also denied her food and medical treatment.
She arranged to return home, but died before she could board her flight back. Because her documents had been forged, her family has not yet received the body, so they can lay her to rest.
‘Alleged involvement of public authorities’
In less than a two month span, between 3 September and 28 October 2021, nearly 205 women, many alleged victims of trafficking, have been repatriated to Viet Nam.
The experts called on the southeast Asian country to strengthen the welfare services and assistance provided to these women, including legal assistance, medical and psychosocial care.
They also urged both governments to conduct an impartial and independent investigation, including allegations of involvement of public authorities.
“We further remind Viet Nam and Saudi Arabia of their international legal obligations to cooperate in order to combat trafficking in persons, including in criminal justice investigations, provision of effective remedies and assistance to victims of trafficking,” they concluded.
The experts have been in contact with both countries and, according to their statement, would like to continue this “constructive engagement”.
The statement was signed by four experts: Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; and Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.