Domestic workers traded and sold via Twitter in Arab countries
Anyone scrolling down the feed of any popular Arab hashtag on Twitter is bound to come across 'ads' offering domestic helpers up for "sale" or "relinquishment."
The phenomenon exists in many countries across the Arab world and has reportedly come to be known as the "black market of domestic workers".
Thousands of tweets circulate on the platform every day, advertising the "sale" of human beings, using the words "maid for relinquishment."
Some have even launched entire Twitter accounts aimed at sharing the latest "listings."
This trend isn't new; it exists on various online platforms in many Arab countries.
Earlier this year, someone in Lebanon listed a housekeeper "for sale" on the online marketplace, OLX.
The OLX post said: "Ethiopian maid up for relinquishment, 20 years old, has experience, can speak Arabic well, a year and half of the contract remains."
Back then, the post drew criticism from social media and bloggers in the country and was later removed from the site.
In a statement emailed to StepFeed at the time, OLX representatives explained that the company "offers the migrant workers the platform of finding jobs to continue to earn a living within the country, rather than just being repatriated or sent to the local employment agencies till they find other positions."
The statement also added that OLX "has a full-time team working to ensure all content on the site complies with local laws."
Local laws in several Arab countries do not criminalize such ads, probably because most of them apply the kafala system, which has been labeled by Human Rights Watch as a "'Sponsored' gateway to human trafficking."
The kafala system exists in different forms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
According to Human Rights Watch, it's a "system that gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers and leaves workers vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor."
The sponsorship system, which has been called "modern-day slavery" by rights groups, legally binds domestic workers to their employers, giving them very limited legal protection.
Under it, domestic workers across the region are left exposed to human rights violations.
Rendered helpless and desperate to escape dire situations, many often resort to suicide.
The death rate of migrant workers in Lebanon increased from one case a week in 2013 to two in 2017, with most cases registered as suicides or botched escape attempts.
Across the GCC, domestic worker suicide rates are also extremely high.
Statistics compiled by Migrant Rights revealed that in 2013, 56 percent of suicides in Kuwait were committed by domestic workers. In that same year, the rate stood at66 percent in Saudi Arabia.
Numbers also revealed that "700 migrant worker suicides were recorded in the UAE between 2007 and 2013."
While a few Arab countries have taken steps to abolish or reform the kafala system, thousands of migrant domestic workers in the region are still treated as commodities.
There's a very long way ahead before they are given the most basic of rights they are entitled to.