As many as one million Sri Lankan children are left motherless every year, as poverty and lack of opportunity force women overseas to work as migrant housemaids in the Middle East.

The migrant housemaid industry sends impoverished Sri Lankan women to work in rich households in countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. However, the industry is completely unregulated.

As many as 60% of women report abuse at the hands of employers, with no recourse to legal protection. Citation 20-hour days are common, along with beatings, rape, false imprisonment, starvation and a failure to pay wages. Many women are effectively being trafficked into modern slavery.

To make matters worse, children left motherless in Sri Lanka are often at the mercy of relatives and friends who may abuse and exploit them. They may be sent out to work, drop out of school, become caregivers for siblings or even be raped, pimped or trafficked themselves.

“It’s bad to go, and bad to stay,”  says *Keshini, a former migrant housemaid. “It’s all about poverty.”

Even if you know the risks, large signing-on bonuses of up to US$2,000 make it very tempting to go.

How can we stop a woman working as a migrant housemaid?

Global Care ‘s partners are giving impoverished Sri Lankan women an alternative. Their goal is to equip women to find work in Sri Lanka. Then they can stay safe and keep their children safe. They want to prevent the trauma of women risking modern slavery in the migrant housemaid industry, and the trauma experienced by their motherless children.

Our partners have established a new network of women’s groups to:

  • protect women through empowering them with employability and enterprise skills and training.
  • raise awareness of domestic violence, abuse and the modern slavery in the migrant housemaid industry
  • strengthen the stand of the community against these abuses, and help women work together to challenge the status quo

In turn, all this activity will protect children.

The initiative will help up to 550 women and their children, in locations around Colombo and in the north. Many trafficked women originate from the Tamil north, still impoverished by the long aftermath of civil war. The team is establishing community-based organisations in all locations, run by women. These will enable networking, safeguard women and children, and support victims of abuse.

*Roshina left her home and children in Sri Lanka to work as a migrant housemaid in the Middle East. She knew no other way of earning the money her family needed for a better life. But she bare feet of Sri Lankan woman in darkened doorway of shack homesuffered terrible abuse in Saudi. And back in Sri Lanka her children struggled without her.

When she returned home at the end of her two-year contract, all the money she’d sent was gone and she was battered and broken. Her husband had found another woman, and her children were traumatised and angry.

Roshina’s story is far from unusual. The migrant housemaid industry is Sri Lanka’s third largest foreign-income earner, after the garment and tea-picking industries. Up to one in five families currently have a mother working overseas.

Break the cycle of trauma for a migrant housemaid and family

“For years, we’ve helped marginalised children through Morning Star Care Centre and our child sponsorship programme,” says John White, Global Care’s CEO. “Many of them have been badly affected by their mother leaving to work in the Middle East. Often our partners are the ones who pick up the pieces.

“This project offers an opportunity to intervene in this cycle at an earlier stage. With support, women can earn the income they need, without all the risks of leaving the country. This prevents the trauma a child may experience when their mother leaves, and increases the protective factors in their life. And so we protect both women and children, helping to create a happier, more stable society.”

How can I help?

If you’d like to help tackle modern-day slavery and its widespread impacts on families in Sri Lanka, please donate to this project.

The nature of this project means we are not currently offering the option to give monthly. But if you prefer to make a regular gift to support women and their families in Sri Lanka, why not consider becoming a partner of Heavena? Heavena is a resource centre for women who have suffered trafficking, domestic abuse, violence and trauma, supporting women within their communities to recover and help their families flourish.


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