Apart from the large number of professionals and skilled workers gaining employment in Middle East countries in the past several decades, Lankan maids have also found jobs in Arab countries, in a big way, remitting home an estimated US $ 7,241.5 million (LKR 1,054.5 billon), thus being the single largest foreign exchange earner.
However, the revelation made by Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Employment, W.J. Vithanage, to Ceylon Today, on the secret auctioning of Lankan maids, by dubious foreign and local handlers, together with middlemen, has clearly indicated that a well-organized mafia network is exploiting Lankan women who seek jobs abroad.
The description given by Secretary Vithanage, on the manner in which the auctions of Lankan maids is carried out, highlights that slavery still exists in Arab countries where women, from underprivileged backgrounds, are put through torment.
Regretting the plight of Lankan maids who are exploited by unscrupulous elements, the Foreign Ministry official pointed out that the situation has snowballed into a major crisis where the relevant Lankan missions, in those countries, are faced with the problem of having to accommodate runaway Lankan maids who have deliberately deserted their original sponsor for better economic advantages. This malpractice certainly tarnishes the image of the country.
Several tall stories have come out on the pathetic state of innocent Lankan maids who find employment abroad, particularly in the Middle East.
The beheading of seventeen-year-old Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek, after accusing her of being responsible for the death of an infant in Saudi Arabia, in 2013, despite fervent appeals being made for clemency for the young maid, who came from an impoverished family, from Muttur, Trincomalee, revealed the crude nature of certain countries where Lankan maids have found employment.
A significant number of Lankan maids have even returned to the Island maimed and in a traumatized state due to ill treatment by those who had employed them.
The secret bidding for Lankan maids, which has been divulged by a senior Foreign Ministry official, has revealed the new trend in the job market in Arab countries. They are playing with the lives of innocent maids and at the same time burdening Lankan missions in those countries with enormous humanitarian issues.
Proper investigations should be carried out to curb this ugly new trend and to protect innocent Lankan maids as well as to break the backbone of the mafia engaged in clandestine slavery.
Foreign Ministry sources have revealed that the bulk of the malpractices involving Lankan maids have been reported from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent other West Asian countries.
Therefore, with the evidence available so far, the Government should take prompt action and develop proper coordination with the countries that employ Lankan maids, in large numbers, to thwart the malicious act of auctioning Lankan maids.
As it has been emphasized by the Lankan Foreign Ministry official and the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) the Government must focus on the process of recruiting Lankan women as housemaids for foreign countries, particularly in Middle Eastern countries where malpractices have been spotted.
It is also important to mention that properly streamlined job opportunities, through channels which abide by local labour laws as well as those of the countries which offer employment opportunities, have led to brighten the lives of a significant number of underprivileged families in the country.
The Government, while taking action to curb malpractices in the foreign employment sector, should also work out a new action plan to ensure that foreign employment agencies in turn ensure a healthy income for the innocent job seekers while maintaining their dignity and safety while abroad.