The story and photos of a 23-year-old Filipino domestic servant in Saudi Arabia now has Saudi and Philippines authorities investigating an appalling abuse case. The maid, known as “Fatma,” was starved and beaten at the hands of her employer, then severely scalded with boiling hot water after she allegedly took too long making the family coffee. The story broke after the woman’s cousin posted pictures of her in a hospital bed on Facebook.
According to a report from Reuters on May 22, the incident occurred on May 4, and a joint investigation has been launched by Riyadh police and the Philippines embassy in the Saudi capital after the horrific burn images surfaced on social media. The woman arrived in the Gulf kingdom in March, and is one of hundreds of thousands of Asian domestic workers to find employment in a Saudi household.
“This is my cousin, who works as domestic helper in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” the Facebook post says. “Her female Saudi employer poured boiling water on her. She has only been in Riyadh for two months. She was beaten up within five days of her arrival by her male employer and was sometimes deprived of food.” The photo, deemed unsuitable for publication here, can be seen on a related article from Opposing Views.
The picture shows a thin Fatma on her side with almost her entire backside ruthlessly scalded. Burns start at her neck and continue down to most of her buttocks. The backs of her arms and legs are also blistering. Her skin, save for the area where her bra straps were, is peeling and covered in heavy burn ointments.
The woman came to Riyadh from Pikit, North Cotabato, and had been working for the family for only a few months. She said her male employer would beat her, and his wife would routinely withhold food if she was found making errors. The scalding was reportedly done by her employer’s mother, who became frustrated at her lack of having coffee ready, and poured a thermos of boiling water down her back.
Philippines news source ABS CBN News picks up the story:
It took a few hours before she was even brought to the hospital to be treated for her burns. On her third day being treated at the hospital, Fatma secretly gave a nurse a piece of paper with her older sister's phone number in the Philippines.
Her sister was able to give the nurse the number of her relatives in Riyadh. When her employer again brought her to the hospital for treatment, Fatma's cousin was able to rescue her.
Her cousin took care of Fatma, and also posted the photos on Facebook. Fatma, who has children ages 11 months and 4 years old back in the Philippines, appealed for help in filing a case against her abusive employer.
According to the Human Rights Watch, last year, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers passed a “Protection from Abuse” law, which formally criminalized abuses that occur within the home. However, critics of the law and human rights advocates said the law was ineffectively weak – specific “enforcement mechanisms to ensure prompt investigations of abuse allegations or prosecution of those who commit abuses” are missing, says HRW.org.
“Saudi Arabia has finally banned domestic abuse, but has yet to say which agencies will police the new law,” said Joe Stork last year, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Without effective mechanisms to punish domestic abuse, this law is merely ink on paper.”
Abuses against women, children and domestic staff continue to be rage on in the Arab state. Early last, a young Sri Lankan housemaid was beheaded by sword after an infant left in her care in 2005 choked on milk and died.