There are an estimated 6000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Kuwait (GSI 2018). Men and women migrate from South and Southeast Asia, Egypt, the Middle East, and increasingly throughout Africa to work in Kuwait, predominantly in the domestic service, construction, hospitality, and sanitation sectors. The vast majority of migrant workers arrive voluntarily; however, upon arrival some sponsors subject migrants to forced labour, including through non-payment of wages, protracted 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. Many of the migrant workers arriving in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to labour recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labour broker fees in Kuwait which, according to Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer—a practice making workers highly vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage. To a lesser extent, migrant women are also subjected to forced prostitution.
Rokeya was 29 years old when she was sent to Kuwait to work in a factory. However, Rokeya was not paid what she was promised and was forced to provide sexual services to be able to send money home to her family.
I was 29 years old when my husband sent me abroad to improve our economic situation. My own family disapproved and I was not keen either. I just obeyed my husband.
My husband contacted Shaju (Josna's son-in-law). I was sent with a company visa. Because the salary is low, Josna promised me to help find another job. She said I could earn about 50 KD a month in this way.
The cost was 75,000 taka. I left one month after giving the money. My two children stayed with my mother-in-law. Josna came to get me at the airport in Kuwait. I was at her place for two days, and then she took me to the Al Nocif Company.
We lived in a brek (residence). There were 20 girls in my room, 15 Bangladeshis and 5 Sri Lankans. Our duty was from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. We received only 20 KD per month and we had to feed ourselves. It was not possible to send money home, so girls were forced to take up another work. I was also forced to do it. My husband had warned me: "I spent all my capital on you, so don't waste it. No matter what the work is, no matter how difficult, you must stick it out and recoup this money." I always remembered these words. This is why I was forced to do it. No one who works for a company can pretend to send money home without doing this work.
After official duty, women lined up outside the brek and were picked up by customers. They were taken to clubs, mess, and hotels, inside shops, even in cars. Sometimes they were taken to brothels.
Those who worked through drivers, shopkeepers, and other intermediaries did not make much money. If you can contact clients directly, it is more profitable as you get the money straight into your hand. At first, I did this work through a Bangladeshi shopkeeper (actually his main business is collecting women, his shop is just a front). He was a Comilla man, about 38 years old. His name was Salam. Other girls from my brek introduced me to him. I worked through Salam for about 6 months and once I understood what it was about, then I contacted clients myself. Salam tried to stop me. He threatened me and I had to work out of his sight.
What is the use to show shame? What I did abroad I told you. If I had not done this work, I could never have sent money home. And if I had not sent money home, my life would have been hell upon return.
Those who took us were Saudis, Pakistanis, and Kuwaitis. Very few were Bangladeshis. Bangladeshi men did not pay us much and because of this we did not like going with them. Through the shopkeeper, I could earn 4-5 KD per day but, alone, I earned 10-12 KD per day. If I went to a hotel or to a club, I got more. If I spent a night at a private home, I earned 7- 8 KD. Every day I could earn something and free food came as a bonus. I went with different men every time.
We were always busy and short of time. We had to be very well organized. When going through a dalal, we had to do more men and we had less money and less freedom. Some days, I could take rest if I wished. I did not mind. Contraceptives were not the customer's headache. That was ours. Pills, condoms, injections were available. I used pills. (Rokeya shows no awareness about the risks of contracting AIDS)
The first six months, I did not get much money because I did not understand. The lowest amount I sent home was 10,000 taka; the highest was 25,000 taka per month.
One day, I got very frightened. I met some people I knew from our area. I thought, if my husband learns what I do, he may divorce me. I also thought about the sins that I was committing, so I decided very quickly to go back to Bangladesh. Seven days after taking that decision, I was back home.
Our situation has improved. My husband is happy. He has money in his hand. Relatives are happy. I kept 20,000 taka for myself, my husband does not know this.
I would not have spoken so much. I told you my story so that you may know what uneducated women do abroad and how selfish husbands are. What kind of work they get their wives to do. If they get the money, there is no problem. If I had failed to send money, for sure, my conjugal life would have been difficult.
I don't feel much attracted to my husband any more. I am angry that he sent me abroad but I hide these feelings from him. No one but myself knows what I did over there. Now, I say my prayers everyday and ask for Allah's forgiveness."
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