Sunday, September 24, 2006

No Vacation for the Maids

Well, it wouldn’t have really been a vacation, anyway, just the opportunity to travel. However, the Shura Council [or Shoura Council] is looking into “an alarming problem which surfaced lately, of maids traveling in the company of families.”

This is, no doubt, directly related to the Colorado case of
Homaidan Al-Turki who has recently been given a sentence of 27 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting an Indonesian housekeeper and keeping her as a virtual slave. The Saudi Gazette published an article on Friday, September 22, 2003, “Families Traveling with Maids,” which “Particularly [it] concerns those sponsoring families who travel to Western countries and the United States, in particular either on holiday or for educational purposes.” Abdullah Abulsamh writes:

“In those countries, regulations are totally different from those observed in ours. Therefore, it never occurred to a number of sponsors who were planning travel that detaining a maid’s passport is an offense which may lead to imprisonment.

Western countries consider this practice as an infringement upon a worker’s rights and freedom, etc.

A number of friends whose maids have decided to run away (or rather to cease working) have told me that the maids went to the police who then forced sponsors to hand them back their passports, regardless of the issues of sponsorship and liability.

Recently, the matter has become more serious in the United States, as a sponsor detaining a maid’s passport can be tried and imprisoned. The US Consulate is now rejecting applications for visas for maids, unless employment contracts are made in the American style, which means the number of working hours, livings conditions, etc. all indicated beforehand.

It is honestly shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind watching the children while their mothers are sitting in cafes. Most of the time, maids remain standing on the sidewalk, at a distance, or sit on the edge of a chair, or run after the noisy, little “devils” who never settle in one place.

Maids can also be seen in the hotels’ hallways with the children while mothers are asleep after staying up at the malls the previous night.

It is the duty of the press to join the Shoura Council in calling for a ban on the travel of maids with families, whether for vacationing or scholastic purposes.

The alternative would be to contact employment agencies to provide local workers or baby sitters who are paid by the hour. This denigration of the Kingdom’s reputation must end.”

If there is a law that specifies “detaining a maid’s passport” could lead to imprisonment, I was unable to find it in a search of the United States government website for international visitors. “Detaining a maid” might, however, be construed as “false imprisonment” if confiscating [“detaining”] one’s passport were interpreted as confinement without legal authority; this is punishable by imprisonment.

Workers in “Western countries,” and specifically, the United States, are afforded a barrage of rights not necessarily bestowed upon employees in other countries, i.e., a minimum wage, maximum working hours, etc. I am not a legal authority but I’d venture to guess “detaining” a passport or person is not allowable and would be considered “an infringement” upon an employee/worker.

A U.S. citizen in Saudi Arabia is subject to that country's laws and regulations. Whether there is any kind of reciprocal relationship in regard to laws and regulations between one country and another is dictated by the host-country. Thus, perhaps it would behoove foreigners traveling with domestic help to ascertain – before journeying – what laws are applicable to specific issues of “sponsorship and liability” should a “maid” decide “to run away (or rather to cease working)” in the host country. That the US Consulate is rejecting applications for visas to be given to maids or other domestic help unless “employment contracts are made in the American style” protects all parties involved, eliminating any guess work as to what is or isn’t allowed.

Although Mr. Abulsamh’s observations may tinge a few raw nerves in his home Country, they will be viewed much more genially by the United States and other Western countries who undoubtedly will agree that it is indeed “shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind...”


  1. It should be pointed out that Al Turki was not convicted of holding a woman's passport. He was convicted of enslavement of another human being.

    He did not allow her to leave the premises.

    He did not pay her.

    He violated US labor laws.


    He was also convicted of rape/sexual assault.


    At any rate, the uproar in KSA seems to be from the feeling that the sentance was "disproportionate" to the crime(s).

    The fact is, if he had tried to make a plea agreement with the prosecution or simply pled guilty (as he was likely advised by his attorney, if the attorney was any good), then it is very likely that he would've received a lighter sentance. As you well know, courts don't like it when guilty people waste a lot of taxpayer money on frivolous pleas of innocense.

    As the Saudi princess in Boston figured out, as she recently pleaded guilty to enslaving 2 maids. We will see how she is sentanced.

    The final point is that in the US, a non-US citizen has exactly the same legal rights in a legal proceeding as a US citizen, unlike in KSA where there is a whole complicated heirarchy of "fairness" applied, depending on your wasta and national origin.

    Glad to see you blogging again, btw!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Also -- I want to add something re the holding of the passport: In addition to being a way of preventing her from leaving (as is done in KSA) it is HER private property. No person, employer or otherwise has a right to just "take" and "hold" another's private property. In the US, at least. We don't do Mahrams.

  4. Sunrunner - I posted your comments twice - my mistake - and then had to delete it. Well, guess I didn't have to delete it, but made it look like you posted it twice - and again, it was my mistake. So, "comment deleted by administrator" was me deleting your comment - the same one is above - which I posted twice... Oops! Sorry, Sunrunner!

  5. Would I be the betting kind, I would set a large sum that lots of KSA's upper crust visitors to our shores are breaking our laws left and right, and that very few of them ever get to see the inside of a courtroom; think of all these embassy and consulates personnel who embody the old saying: "You can take the boy out of the country, but cannot take the country out of the boy", So many cases of vehicular homicide have been wipped off the slate, as if by magic, all for the sake od 'diplomatic immunity'.
    Which in the case of Saudis works only one way: theirs.


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