Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Kuwait

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Kuwait, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee6b32.html [accessed 19 April 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 who are subjected to forced labor and to a lesser degree forced prostitution. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Iraq to work in Kuwait, most of them in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation sectors. Although most of these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor by their sponsors and labor agents, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace. Although Kuwait has a standard contract for domestic workers delineating their rights, many workers report work conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract; some workers never see the contract at all. Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying recruitment fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid for by the employer – a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Kuwait. Due to provisions of Kuwait's sponsorship law that restrict workers' movements and penalize workers for running away from abusive workplaces, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor inside private homes. In addition, media sources report that runaway domestic workers fall prey to forced prostitution by agents who exploit their illegal status.

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. The government did not enact its draft comprehensive anti-trafficking law, though a subcommittee-approved bill has been on the parliament's agenda since November 2009 without being debated. Kuwait's victim protection measures remain weak, particularly due to its lack of proactive victim identification procedure and continued reliance on the sponsorship system, which causes victims of trafficking to be punished for immigration violations rather than protected. However, government officials participated in training on trafficking issues. The government also did not make significant progress in fulfilling other commitments made since 2007, such as enacting the draft domestic workers' bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers or establishing a large-capacity permanent shelter for victims of trafficking. The government similarly made only minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. For these reasons, Kuwait is placed on Tier 3 for a fifth consecutive year.

Recommendations for Kuwait: Enact the draft anti-trafficking bill to specifically prohibit and punish all human trafficking offenses; significantly increase efforts to prosecute, punish, and stringently sentence traffickers, particularly sponsors who force domestic workers into involuntary servitude; enact and enforce the draft domestic workers bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers; establish procedures to proactively identify victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; revise sponsorship provisions that make workers vulnerable to abuse, including domestic workers; enforce existing laws against sponsors and employers who illegally hold migrant workers' passports; and continue to expand on existing anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials.

Prosecution

The Government of Kuwait made few discernible efforts to significantly improve its law enforcement efforts against trafficking during the reporting period. The government still has not enacted a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill that has been on the parliament agenda since November 2009. Despite the continued absence of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, other provisions of the Kuwaiti Criminal Code could be used to punish trafficking 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. These prescribed penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses. Nonetheless, the government did not report any arrests, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of traffickers during the reporting period for either forced labor or forced prostitution. Media sources report that one man was sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping, and selling a girl for sex against her will in December 2010. In February, a media source highlighted the arrest of the owner of an apartment where eight runaway domestic workers were forced into prostitution. The case has been referred to the attorney general, but the disposition was not final at the end of the reporting period. Although withholding workers' passports is prohibited under Kuwaiti law, this practice reportedly remains common as a means of obtaining foreign workers' forced labor, yet the Government of Kuwait has demonstrated no genuine efforts to enforce this prohibition. The government remains reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens for trafficking offenses despite allegations that trafficking in Kuwait largely involved Kuwaiti employers in private residences. When Kuwaiti nationals are investigated for trafficking offenses, they tend to receive less scrutiny than foreigners.

Kuwaiti law enforcement generally takes an administrative or civil approach in addressing cases of forced labor, such as assessing fines, shutting down employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back-wages. Kuwait also made minimal efforts to address government complicity in trafficking offenses; during the reporting period, media sources report that four government officials were arrested for an unknown period of time for illegally importing workers and one Kuwaiti police officer was arrested for raping a runaway domestic worker in a detention center. The Ministry of Interior and IOM trained ministry officials, police officers, and judges on trafficking in persons during the reporting period. Kuwait should significantly increase its efforts to prosecute and criminally punish trafficking offenses, including forced labor and forced prostitution.

Protection

During the year, Kuwait made inadequate efforts to protect victims of trafficking. The government continued to lack formal procedures for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers and women in prostitution. Kuwait's sponsorship law effectively dissuades workers from reporting abuse by their sponsors to government authorities; workers who abscond from their sponsors face criminal and financial penalties of up to six months' imprisonment, over $2,000 in fines, and deportation for leaving without their employers' permission, even if they ran away due to abuse by the sponsor. NGO sources describe this as a "race to the police station" since victims may be punished for absconding if their employers report them missing before the victims have an opportunity to report abuses to the police. The threat of these consequences discouraged workers from appealing to police or other government authorities for protection and obtaining adequate legal redress for their exploitation.

In January 2011, the Ministry of Interior revised its rules to refer non-domestic worker labor cases to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for investigation prior to deportation. However, domestic workers are excluded from this reform and remained in detention facilities pending resolution of their investigations. Women arrested for prostitution offenses also were not screened for evidence of trafficking, and faced prosecution and deportation regardless of whether they were sex trafficking victims. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor continued to operate a short-term shelter with a maximum capacity of 40 intended to provide medical, psychological, and legal services; the government, however, did not report the actual number of trafficking victims assisted at this shelter during the reporting period and NGO sources report that this shelter remained underutilized. Some sources report that the shelter turns away cases that are not "simple" and does not accept trafficking victims whose employers have filed cases against them, some of which are false allegations of theft. The shelter does not allow victims to leave freely, so they are essentially detained within the shelter until their case is resolved. In September, shelter staff received training on shelter management and victim assistance. In 2007, the government announced it would open a 700-person shelter for both men and women, but this shelter has yet to be established. There continued to be no shelter or other protection services afforded for male victims of trafficking, and it is unclear whether victims of forced prostitution can access the government's temporary shelter. Some sending countries have expressed a preference for handling these cases through their embassies and the Government of Kuwait provided source-country embassies with funds to pay for the repatriation of some runaway domestic workers sheltered at their embassies. Government authorities, however, did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers or offer legal alternatives to victims' removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice continued to offer training in trafficking issues for government employees, including IOM-sponsored training courses on protecting trafficking victims to increase police officer's awareness of and sensitivity toward trafficking issues and for judges, prosecutors, and legal consultants in ways to protect expatriate workers' contractual rights more effectively.

Prevention

The Government of Kuwait made minimal progress in preventing trafficking in persons this year. Although transparency in the government's anti-trafficking efforts was lacking, with no public reporting on these efforts apparent, the government consulted closely with the two officially recognized human rights organizations in drafting anti-trafficking legislation. While the government increased the minimum wage for workers in the private sector to $210 per month in April 2010, this new provision excludes Kuwait's half-million domestic workers – the group most vulnerable to human trafficking – and does not establish mechanisms to monitor implementation of this rule. During the reporting period, the Ministry of the Interior took steps to shut down fraudulent labor recruiting agencies and terminated licenses for recruiting companies that did not meet more stringent regulations set in the February 2010 Private Sector Labor Law. Domestic workers also remain excluded from a new decree establishing maximum allowable work hours per week. As in past years, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs made a nationwide effort to reduce overseas child sex tourism by requiring some Sunni mosques to deliver Friday sermons on the danger of sex abroad and Islam's strict teachings against improper sexual relations.

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