Hundreds of foreign domestic workers demonstrated in the Lebanese capital to demand the scrapping of a sponsorship system that they complain leaves them open to abuse from employers.
Lebanon hosts more than 250,000 registered domestic workers, the vast majority of them women, from countries including Ethiopia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
They are excluded from the labor law, and instead obtain legal residency through their employers’ sponsorship under the so-called “kafala” system.
The protesters marching in Beirut held up placards reading “No to slavery and yes to justice” and “Stop kafala.”
“We want the cancellation of this system. There are employees imprisoned in houses and they need to have days off,” Dozossissane, a 29-year-old Ethiopian, told AFP.
Lebanon’s labor ministry introduced a standard contract for domestic workers in 2009, but the forms are often written in Arabic, a language many cannot read.
Activists regularly accuse the authorities of failing to take claims of abuse seriously, with maids, and nannies left at the mercy of employers.
Amnesty International last month urged Lebanon to end what it called the “inherently abusive” migration sponsorship system and change the labor law to offer domestic workers more protection.
A report from the rights group that surveyed 32 domestic workers revealed “alarming patterns of abuse,” including physical punishments, humiliating treatment and food deprivation.