There are an estimated 3000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Bahrain (GSI 2018). Men and women, primarily from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Philippines (among other countries) migrate voluntarily to work as semi-skilled or unskilled labourers in the construction of service industries. Some of these workers are subjected to forced labour, suffering conditions such as passport retention, confinement, non-payment of wages, and physical and sexual abuse. Those employed in domestic work are particularly vulnerable as they are only partially protected under Bahrain labour law, and cultural norms and existing legal infrastructure avert private home inspection.
Champa, a 30 year old woman and mother of 3 children went to Bahrain in 2000 to work as a maid. Though for a while everything was fine, after a couple of weeks the husabnd of the family began to come to her at night for sex. Once his wife found out, Champa was thrown out of the house, arrested accused of theft and spent 5 months in jail. Champa was not paid for her work and returned to Bangladesh with nothing.
My husband and I together decided that I should go abroad. Many people have gone from here and many have done well. Perhaps I could also do something to improve our situation.
I asked Zobeda's brother to arrange a visa (Zobeda’s brother had been living in Bahrain for many years and sent visas to his sister). The cost was 45,000 taka. I got 10,000 taka from the NGO savings group, my brother gave 10,000 taka, I had 5,000 taka in savings and 20,000 taka were borrowed from a moneylender. I opened a bank account in my own name. This, my husband did not like.
Within 25 days, I got my visa. I left the children with my mother-in-law. Before leaving, my husband warned me: "Don't forget, money is in the hands of others. You have to work to get it in your hands. Don't do anything, which could result in you coming back to Bangladesh too soon. We have to reimburse the money borrowed. Never forget this."
The day I arrived in Bahrain, Zobeda’s brother took me to a family. The man was a police and his wife did not work. They had 6 children. They said I would be paid 4,000 taka plus food and clothing. It did not take long for me to learn the language and the work.
For 15 days, I was fine. I liked it because I had suffered so much in the past. The food was good, the living conditions were fine and the thought of being paid 4,000 taka made me happy. In my life, I had never earned so much money. Sometimes I thought about my husband and my children but I tried to put these thoughts aside and think only about the money I was going to earn.
After fifteen days, late at night, the husband entered my room. When I saw him, I immediately sat up. I was afraid and felt shame. Why is he coming to my room so late? What have I done wrong? I could not think he had come to spoil my honour. I could not protest aloud… I feared someone might find out. That would be even more shameful. He stayed 3-4 hours and left. He said he would give me some extra money. Slowly, I lost my shame and the husband came to me almost every day. He was a handsome man, about 39-40 years old. His wife was not good looking.
One day, the wife got to know. She did not tell her husband but hit me and threw me out of the house. I had nothing, no money, and no paper. I did not know the area. Soon, a police found me and brought me to the police station. I gave the telephone number of my employer and told them my story. After 7 days, my employer and his wife came to the police station and filed an accusation of theft against me. Over there, they only listen to their own people. Our voice has no value. I was sent to jail for 5 months.
In jail, life was tough. I got beaten. The food was very poor and the place horrible. After 5 months, I was freed and sent back to Bangladesh. I came back empty handed. I did not even have money to go home. I was tired, in bad health and depressed. I also felt ashamed and frightened. What could I tell my husband?
Narrative located in the report ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Critical Look at Women Labour Migration and the Trafficking Within’ by Thérèse Blanchet provided courtesy of The Child Protection Hub