A total of 5,179 domestic workers ran away from their Saudi sponsors in the six months from November 2013 to April 2014, according to figures which have been attributed to an annual pre-Ramadan exodus.
Brig. Gen. Malla Marzouq Al Otaibi, spokesman for the Eastern Province Passport Department, said 1,543 maids ran away in November, 729 in December, 926 in January, 801 in February, 523 in March and 657 in April, Arab News reported.
It comes as an earlier survey by the Maid Welfare Center found that about 80 to 120 maids run away from their sponsors every day, with most taking off from Riyadh followed by Makkah, Madinah and the Eastern Province.
Last month Saudi and Filipino authorities said they were investigating an incident in which a maid from the Philippines was allegedly scalded when water was deliberately poured down her back. Arab News said the investigation was launched jointly by Riyadh police and the Philippines embassy in the Saudi capital after images of burns allegedly suffered by the 23-year-old woman, who had arrived in the kingdom in March, surfaced on social media and online.
Khalid Al Fakhiri, legal adviser and secretary-general of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), claimed there were few substantial complaints from domestic workers.
“Crimes which have been committed by some domestic workers recently cannot be justified,” he told Arab News. “Killing, burning and poisoning children cannot be justified under any circumstances.”
Al Fakhiri said no one had forced maids to come to Saudi Arabia, adding that citizens incurred huge losses when maids ran away. He criticised the media for sensationalising some cases.
Al Fakhiri said there were laws in place in the kingdom that dealt with the rights and obligations of both sponsors and their workers. Saudi Arabia in August last year passed landmark legislation aimed at protecting women, children and domestic workers against hidden violence. The “Protection from Abuse” law was the first of its kind in the ultra-conservative country, which has often faced international criticism for its lack of laws that protect women and domestic staff against abuse.
Saudi households are highly dependent on housemaids from African and South Asian countries. In some reported cases maids have attacked the children of their employers after suffering abuse. Saudi Arabia last year beheaded a young Sri Lankan housemaid after rejecting appeals by her home country to spare her life following a death sentence imposed for the killing of an infant left in her care in 2005.