KUALA LUMPUR - Middle East and Asian nations, which draw millions of foreign domestic workers, have failed to take action to tackle widespread abuse of the vulnerable women despite recent improvements. Human Rights Watch said.
"The reforms undertaken by Middle Eastern and Asian governments fall far short of the minimum protections needed to tackle abuses against migrant domestic workers," the US-based group said in a report launched ahead of International Labour Day on May 1.
The report focused on Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Singapore. HRW said that several nations had made improvements but far more must be done.
"In general, reforms have been slow, incremental, and hard-fought," said Nisha Varia, the group's women's rights researcher.
"Jordan deserves credit for including domestic work in their labour law, but enforcement remains a big concern. Singapore has prosecuted physical abuse against domestic workers vigorously, but fails to guarantee them even one day off a week."
Saudi Arabia alone absorbs 1.5 million foreign domestic workers, and there are 196,000 in the tiny city-state of Singapore.
The workers come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other countries in Asia and Africa, and their earnings contribute billions to their home countries, often making up a good chunk of those economies.
HRW said the workers are subjected to violence, forced isolation in private homes, excessive working hours with no rest, and unpaid wages for months of hard labour.
"Reforms often encounter stiff resistance both from employers used to having a domestic worker on call around the clock, and labour brokers profiting handsomely off a poorly regulated system," Varia said.
"Governments should make protecting these vulnerable workers a priority."
HRW called on governments to bring domestic workers under the protective umbrella of labour laws, reform repressive immigration laws that contribute to abuse, and ensure police and courts respond to abuse cases.