A revolution is needed to push the Lebanese government’s hand to make the requisite reforms to its labour laws.
Washington, DC – For Alem Dechesa, death was the only way out. For thousands of voiceless Ethiopian domestic workers working in Lebanon, suicide is the only avenue for escaping a nihilistic existence.
I witnessed the range of human rights abuses endured by Ethiopian maids – from both the perspective of a Lebanese insider and a human rights attorney – and found that Dechesa’s death was anything but a horrific aberration, but a common consequence of the modern-day slavery industry in Lebanon.
Dechesa took her life on March 14, after experiencing severe beatings, mental abuse and potentially more, from her employer. A video, showing Ali Mahfouz brutally beating Dechesa in front of the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut, went viral after she took her life. The video, viewed by millions around the world and propelling the story into the global news spotlight, uncovered the dehumanisation and brutality endured by Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon.
Poverty, lack of viable employment alternatives and desperation, give fertile ground for traffickers to exploit despondent Ethiopian women. Once the birthplace of mankind, Ethiopia today serves as a cradle for traffickers pursuing profit and Lebanese nationals, seeking cheap labour – a virtual one-stop shop for inexpensive and convenient servitude.
Recipe for enslavement
An unsavoury blend of Lebanese ethnocentrism, racial animus toward Africans, human trafficking and the debt bondage of maids upon arrival from Ethiopia, make up a recipe for contemporary enslavement. While the images of silent and submissive African maids trapped inside cosmopolitan Beirut apartments, condos and villas seemed juxtaposed at first, the modern portrait of Middle Eastern slavery – I gradually discovered through on-the-ground research, interviewing nearly 50 maids, and an examination of Lebanese labour laws and observance of human rights – was a common picture and practice. >> Read More on Al-Jazeera