I recently received an email from a reader, Ali, about the pitiful state of Lebanese labor laws. He agreed to let me publish it as a commentary.
There is a troubling issue which I feel is not getting enough coverage or condemnation: the issue of foreign domestic worker abuse in Lebanon. I don’t know anyone who grew up in Lebanon who hasn’t seen (or doesn’t know of) a maid who was beaten or was being abused at the neighbour’s place, if not in their own home. I remember when I was a kid I used to watch our neighbor from our balcony going on a rampage, beating, and shouting at her maid like a maniac for hours (or so it seemed to me). When the police were called, they would say to the woman, “Please keep it down,” and “Ma bi-seer heik, haram” and then leave. In a week’s time, the same story would start all over again. I know that even in our house, our maid got a couple of proper slaps. The explanation was always: “Sometimes that is the only way she understands.”
When I was growing up I used to hear stories that the maid jumped off the balcony from beit il mawlawi, or that several maids had run away from certain houses. For some reason, nobody used to find these reports abnormal or appalling. We wouldn’t even read about them in the news, which would also make you think that these were just rumors. I was lucky enough to move out from Lebanon at a young age to study and this issue never crossed my mind again.
Then, during my last visit to Lebanon, I found out that we had a new maid from Ethiopia. After asking my dad about her (since our family had always had maids from Sri Lanka) he said that Sri Lanka doesn’t allow their citizens to work in Lebanon any more as maids. It turns out that the Philippines is considering a similar step. After some thought, I became so ashamed of myself that I belong to a country where we as a people acceptingly abuse these workers to the extent that a foreign government can’t protect its citizens by resorting to our judicial system, but needs to stop them from coming as a solution. No one else seems to be ashamed of this fact: not the press, nor the people, nor the government.
Of course we do have rare exceptions when we do prosecute someone, maybe because the case was very strong: the maid was beaten in the embassy itself! But what about all the others? What about the ones who “fall off” balconies?
I hope that this topic would be of some interest to you and that you would write about it at some point. I feel that this issue should be discussed more and awareness should be raised. This abuse should not be accepted as an everyday thing. I personally feel deeply ashamed that this thing is happening among members of the educated middle class, who I believe are the mirror and true face of a country.
Kind regards and wishing you a happy new year,