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UN expert urges Kuwait to redoubled efforts to stop trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers

KUWAIT CITY / GENEVA (14 September 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro today welcomed Kuwait’s commitment to fight trafficking in persons, but urged the Government to further strengthen its assistance and support measures for trafficked and exploited domestic workers, and adopt prevention measures, especially related to the abolition of the sponsorship (Kafala) system, and full protection of domestic workers’ rights.

At the end of her first official visit* to Kuwait, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking noted that victims of trafficking in the country are foreign women and men who are, for the most, trafficked for forced labour and labour exploitation including domestic servitude.

“Migrants in irregular situations, including some refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons who work informally in the Kuwaiti economy are at risk of trafficking for both labour and sexual exploitation,” Ms. Giammarinaro said.

“Moreover, some domestic workers flee their employers as a result of deception about the type and conditions of employment by recruitment agencies in countries of origin, and exploitation by their sponsors and employers in Kuwait,” she added. “Some domestic workers have been forced into prostitution.”

The expert welcomed Kuwait’s determination to counter domestic servitude, which would otherwise be completely hidden, as it happens in many countries of the world. “The establishment of two shelters, that have to date received more than 7,000 domestic workers fleeing their employers, shows a real commitment in this field and is a benchmark in the region and beyond,” she stated. “This accomplishment is even more significant given that exploitation of domestic workers is prevalent in the region.”

“I encourage the government and institutions of Kuwait to continue in this direction, and redouble efforts to better prevent trafficking and protect its victims,” said the expert. She also called on the government to address existing gaps, and offer real alternatives to deportation when people are not willing to return, including by dropping existing charges filed by their employers against them.

The Special Rapporteur drew special attention to the Kafala system, which binds every worker to an employer as a sponsor, and creates a situation of vulnerability which favours abusive and exploitative work relationships leading to human trafficking in the domestic work and in other sectors such as construction. “Abolish and replace the Kafala system to allow migrant workers to enjoy substantial freedom in the labour market,” she urged the Kuwait authorities.

The expert also encouraged the Government to place domestic work, which is currently overseen by the Ministry of Interior, under the competence of the Ministry of Labour and the Public Authority for Manpower. “This will recognise the equal rights of domestic workers,” she highlighted.

During her visit to Kuwait city, from 4 to 8 September, Ms. Giammarinaro met with representatives of various government agencies, the judiciary, the Kuwait Institute for Judicial and Legal studies, as well as representatives of civil society, UN agencies, international organisations and the diplomatic community.

The expert also visited the women shelter for domestic workers under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor as well as the women’s prison, the private nurseries for children of women prisoners and the immigration detention center for women.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:
English: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20487&LangID=E  
Arabic: http://www.ohchr.org/AR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20487&LangID=A

Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. Ms. Giammarinaro has been a Judge since 1991 She served as a Pre-Trial Judge at the Criminal Court of Rome, and currently serves as a Judge in the Civil Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. She drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Trafficking/Pages/TraffickingIndex.aspx 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Kuwait: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/KWIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Selma Vadala (+41 22 917 9108 / svadala@ohchr.org / srtrafficking@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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