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2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Kuwait

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Kuwait, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cb8c.html [accessed 18 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, mainly in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation sectors. Although most of these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival their sponsors and labor agents subject some migrants to conditions of forced labor, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and the withholding of passports. While Kuwait requires 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 labor broker 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 parliament has still not enacted a draft comprehensive anti-trafficking law. While various government ministries are tasked with addressing trafficking-related issues, there is no lead official, ministry, nor national coordinating body that focused on anti-trafficking efforts. The government's victim protection measures remain weak, particularly due to the lack of proactive victim identification and referral procedures and continued reliance on the sponsorship system, which inherently punishes, rather than protects, trafficking victims for immigration violations. The government continues to operate a temporary shelter for runaway female domestic workers, established in September 2007, though it offers no such facility accommodating male victims of trafficking. The government also did not make significant progress in fulfilling other commitments made since 2007, such as enacting a law to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers or completing the construction of a large-capacity permanent shelter for victims of trafficking. The government similarly made insufficient efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. For these reasons, Kuwait is placed on Tier 3 for a sixth 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, including the establishment of a minimum wage, the deposit of salaries into employee bank accounts, maximum working hours, overtime compensation, a clear job description, a contract provided in the domestic worker's native language, and the right to annual and sick leave; establish procedures to proactively identify all victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; establish and operate a large-scale shelter for trafficking victims; 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; continue to expand on existing anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials; and significantly increase efforts to prevent trafficking.

Prosecution

The Government of Kuwait made few discernible efforts to improve its law enforcement efforts against trafficking during the reporting period. The government has yet to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill that has been on the parliament's agenda since November 2009. Despite the continued absence of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, the government could prosecute and punish trafficking offenses under other provisions of the Kuwaiti Criminal Code, but there is little evidence it has done so in a systematic fashion. Limited forms of transnational slavery are prohibited through Article 185, which prescribes a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. Law 16/1960 criminalizes forced labor or exploitation, while maltreatment that amounts to torture and leads to death is considered first-degree murder. 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, such as rape. Nonetheless, the government did not report any arrests, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of traffickers during the reporting period for either forced labor or sex trafficking. Media sources report that in mid-2011, Kuwaiti security officials arrested a total of nine individuals for allegedly kidnapping women, some of whom were domestic workers, and selling the victims into forced prostitution. All cases were referred to the Public Prosecutor, but it remains unclear if these arrests resulted in prosecutions. Although the withholding of workers' passports is prohibited under Kuwaiti law, this practice remains common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, and the Government of Kuwait has demonstrated no genuine efforts to enforce this prohibition. Almost none of the domestic workers who take refuge in their home-country embassy shelters have passports in their possession. The government remains reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens for trafficking offenses despite allegations that the majority of offenses 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. In June 2011, various government ministries received training on victim protection and best practices from foreign government and IOM officials. Also during this reporting period, the government provided funding to IOM to conduct anti-trafficking training for police, judges, and other officials in Kuwait.

Protection

During the year, the Kuwaiti government made inadequate efforts to protect victims of trafficking. It did not develop or implement formal procedures for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers and women in prostitution. Kuwait's migrant sponsorship law effectively dissuades foreign workers from reporting abuses committed by their employers to government authorities; workers who flee from their employers face criminal and financial penalties of up to six months' imprisonment, the equivalent of over $2,000 in fines, and deportation for leaving without their employers' permission, even if they ran away from an abusive sponsor. The threat of these consequences discouraged workers from appealing to police or other government authorities for protection and from obtaining adequate legal redress for their exploitation.

The Government of Kuwait did not encourage victims of trafficking to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, and it did not offer foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. Moreover, victims were not offered legal aid by the government. Some foreign victims of trafficking received monetary settlements from their employers, though trafficking-related charges were not pursued against the employer. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor continued to operate a short-term shelter for runaway domestic workers with a maximum capacity of 40. The shelter detained victims involuntarily until their legal or immigration cases were resolved. The government also did not report the actual number of trafficking victims assisted at this shelter during the reporting period. It is unclear whether victims of forced prostitution can access the government's temporary shelter, and there continued to be no shelter or other protective services afforded for male victims of trafficking. In 2007, the government announced it would open a high-capacity shelter for runaway domestic workers; this shelter was under construction, but was not yet complete at the end of the reporting period. The Kuwaiti government provided source countries with funds to pay for the repatriation of some runaway domestic workers sheltered at their embassies in Kuwait. The Ministry of Interior continued to offer training on trafficking issues for government employees, including IOM-sponsored training courses on trafficking victim recognition and protection. The government does not, however, provide funding to domestic NGOs or international organizations that provide direct services to trafficking victims.

Prevention

The Government of Kuwait made minimal progress in preventing trafficking in persons during the past year. The Private Sector Labor Law, enacted in February 2010, mandated the formation of a government-run sponsorship system for non-domestic laborers, which would replace the current sponsorship system. During the reporting period, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor worked to implement this legal requirement by creating the Public Authority for Manpower; however, parliament has not yet ratified the creation of this entity, so it has not become operational. A government provision set in April 2010 to increase the minimum wage for workers in the private sector continues to exclude Kuwait's more than a half-million domestic workers – the group most vulnerable to human trafficking – and does not establish mechanisms to monitor implementation of this rule. 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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