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Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Kuwait, 14 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c1883e426.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KUWAIT (Tier 3)

Kuwait is a destination country for men and women, some of whom are subsequently subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor. The majority of trafficking victims are from among the approximately 550,000 foreign women recruited for domestic service work in Kuwait. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, and Iraq to work in Kuwait, most of them in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation industries. Although these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor by their sponsors and labor agents, including through such practices as non-payment of wages, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports. Labor recruitment agencies and their subagents at the community level in South Asia may coerce or defraud workers into accepting work in Kuwait that turns out to be exploitative and, in some instances, constitutes involuntary servitude.

In some cases, arriving migrant workers have found the terms of employment in Kuwait are wholly different from those they agreed to in their home countries, making them vulnerable to human trafficking. As a result of such contract fraud, the Government of Indonesia in October 2009 banned further migration of domestic workers to Kuwait. Some 600 Indonesian domestic workers sought refuge in the Indonesian embassy in Kuwait in the last year; some of these domestic workers may have been victims of trafficking. Some of these workers arrive in the country to find their promised jobs do not exist. Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries – a practice making workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Kuwait. Some unscrupulous Kuwaiti sponsors and recruiting agents prey on some of these migrants by charging them high amounts for residency visas, which foreign workers are supposed to receive for free. Adult female migrant workers are particularly vulnerable and consequently are often victims of nonconsensual commercial sexual exploitation and forced prostitution. Some domestic workers have fled from employers, and subsequently have been coerced into prostitution.

The Government of Kuwait does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making sufficient efforts to do so. Although the government made some efforts to improve its performance from previous years, heated public discourse and wide press debate on human trafficking have not yet resulted in the implementation of adequate laws. The Kuwaiti government made progress on some of the commitments it made in 2007 by making trafficking-related law enforcement data available and by continuing to investigate and prosecute some types of trafficking-related offenses. The government has not, however, made sufficient progress in fulfilling other commitments it made in 2007, including commitments to enact legislation specifically prohibiting human trafficking, to establish a 700-person permanent shelter for victims of trafficking, and to develop and implement a training program to educate government officials on the effective handling of trafficking cases. The government remains reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens for trafficking-related offenses; much of the human trafficking found in Kuwait involves domestic workers in Kuwaiti private residences. The government acknowledged some workers face difficulties but denied this contributes to a systemic trafficking problem.

Recommendations for Kuwait: Enact the draft anti-trafficking bill to specifically prohibit and punish all human trafficking offenses; enact the draft domestic workers bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers; establish methods to proactively identify victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; ensure sponsors and employers do not illegally hold migrant workers' passports; and expand on anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials.

Prosecution

The Government of Kuwait demonstrated minimal progress in anti-human trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. Although the government has not yet enacted legislation explicitly prohibiting trafficking in persons, the Kuwaiti Criminal Code prohibits several trafficking-related offenses. Limited forms of transnational slavery are prohibited through Article 185, which prescribes a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. Article 201, which prohibits forced prostitution, prescribes a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment if the victim is an adult and seven years if the victim is under the age of 18. While these prescribed penalties are sufficiently severe and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, the government did not punish any trafficking offenders under these statutes. Kuwait charged 15 Kuwaiti citizens and 63 expatriates with crimes relating to the abuse of domestic workers, including one murder, although only two criminals were imprisoned. Two of these Kuwaiti employers were sentenced to 15 and 16 years in prison; however, one absconded and was not apprehended. Another Kuwaiti employer was sentenced to two years imprisonment, but this sentence was subsequently suspended upon payment of a $350 fine. The victim – an Indonesian maid – had been beaten, scalded by boiling water, and branded with a heated knife by the employer. Another Kuwaiti employer was sentenced in December 2009 to fifteen years in prison for beating to death an Asian woman employed as her maid. In April 2010, an appeals court reduced the jail term to seven years. The government also convicted 48 defendants charged with violence against foreign workers in other occupations. No information on sentences was available for these cases.

Kuwaiti law enforcement generally takes an administrative or civil approach in addressing cases of forced labor or exploitation, such as assessing fines, shutting down employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages. Such administrative penalties are not sufficiently stringent and do not reflect the heinous nature of human trafficking crimes. Kuwaiti courts sentenced two police officers to ten years in jail each for raping three female migrant workers. The crime took place in a detention facility, where the women were being held after running away from their employers.

Protection

During the year, Kuwait made no discernible efforts to improve protection for victims of trafficking. The government continued to lack a formal procedure for the systematic identification and protection of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers arrested without proper identity documents and women forced into prostitution. Kuwait's short-term shelter has a maximum capacity of 40 and is intended to provide medical, psychological, and legal services. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL), approximately 300 domestic workers enter and leave the shelter each year and are referred from embassy shelters. Sources indicate, however, officials restricted the number of women each embassy sends to the shelter and requested the embassies only refer "simple" cases. There was no shelter available for male migrant workers. In 2007, the government committed to opening a 700-person shelter for both men and women. This shelter had not yet been established, as the government was in the process of transferring the building from the Ministry of Education to MOSAL. During the reporting period, the Indonesian government, together with IOM, sent delegations to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan to assess the plight of Indonesian domestic workers in these countries. Over 400 victims, found in the Indonesian embassy shelter in Kuwait and unable to leave because they either did not have passports or exit permits (or both), were flown home as a result of the delegation's intervention. Trafficking victims were generally deported for running away from their sponsors or employers. Foreigners convicted of prostitution are also deported, regardless of whether they were sex trafficking victims. Government authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers.

Prevention

The Government of Kuwait made some efforts to prevent trafficking in persons this year. Kuwait's National Assembly passed and enacted a new private sector labor law, which, among other things, increased punishment for the illegal recruitment of workers, and allowed for the establishment of a state-owned recruitment company to oversee and manage the recruitment of all migrant workers – this recruitment company had not yet been established. The law excludes Kuwait's half-million domestic workers – the group most vulnerable to human trafficking – and does not establish mechanisms to monitor workers' rights. In August, MOSAL issued a ministerial resolution to immediately permit most foreign workers to change employers after three years of work, without having to secure the permission of the current Kuwaiti sponsor. In April 2010, MOSAL issued another resolution instituting a minimum wage of approximately $200 a month, Kuwait's first-ever minimum wage. However, domestic workers are not included in these resolutions.

A ministerial decree forbids sponsors and employers from withholding passports. However, this decree was not adequately enforced. It was reported that over 90 percent of the domestic workers who went to their embassies for assistance did not have access to their passports. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a warning against sex tourism in all of Kuwait's Arabic dailies in February 2010 and the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs required some Sunni mosques to deliver Friday sermons on the danger of sex abroad and Islam's strict teachings against improper sexual relations. Government officials received training on migrant workers' rights and the ability to use existing laws to prosecute trafficking-related crimes. The government drafted an anti-trafficking bill that remained on the parliamentary agenda as of May 2010.

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