Domestic workers

Kenya trains domestic workers in the Middle East on rights

Kenyan authorities are training domestic workers who take jobs in the Middle East on their rights after years of reported abuses there, including beatings, rape and death.

It has been a year since Bernard Njenga learned that his wife, Esther Thuku, had died in Saudi Arabia, where she had been a domestic worker for three years.

Saudi authorities reported that his wife committed suicide at her employer’s home, Njenga said, but he believes the mother of four was murdered.

Njenga said his wife’s body bore no marks indicating that she had hanged herself. It appears the body was buried because it was very dirty and it looked like she had been stabbed in the left side, he added.

Kenyan authorities say that since November at least 23 domestic workers have died while working in the Middle East. Most of those deaths have occurred in Saudi Arabia, according to labor officials.

Saudi authorities reported that all 23 deaths resulted from cardiac arrest.

In April 2020, rights group Amnesty International reported that Kenyans who work as domestic workers in the Middle East often complain of lack of payment, forced labor, physical abuse, rape and unsafe working conditions.

Today, Kenya offers safety training to domestic workers who accept jobs abroad.

“When you don’t train them, you expose them to a lot of exploitation and abuse,” said Edith Murogo, director of the East Africa Institute of Homecare Management in Nairobi. “Part of the training also includes awareness of labor rights. They need to know how to negotiate and talk to employees about decent employment conditions.”

An estimated 30,000 Kenyans migrate to the Middle East to find work each year.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Labor Simon Chelugui said his department was working with Saudi officials on labor law reforms.

“We would like them to also strengthen their legislation to protect workers and employers equally, to not discriminate and to ensure that the attitude of the employer is always fair,” Chelugui said. “Second, the salary is reasonable and commensurate with the work.”

VOA has contacted the Saudi Embassy in Nairobi for comment on allegations of mistreatment and deaths of Kenyan workers. In an email response, the embassy said the kingdom does not tolerate any unlawful and ill-treatment of anyone and said Riyadh was working with Nairobi to protect citizens from any offences.

Meanwhile, officials say that with around 2 million young people graduating every year, according to national figures, and only around 800,000 new jobs, many Kenyans will continue to go abroad to find work.