Girl burnt in Saudi Arabia her pleads to be returned ignored by Agency

The wave of labor export that has seen many Ugandan girls travel to the Middle East for jobs as domestic workers keep growing despite complaints. Mariam Namuli went to Saudi Arabia in March but about three weeks ago, she got an accident when her hand and body were burnt by cooking oil.

Her mother, Lukia Nsangi, said Namuli was taken to hospital for treatment but thereafter, was forced to return to work.

“My daughter is in danger. I tried to look for the company that took her but failed. I reported the case to the Police CID headquarters in Kibuli but they referred me to the gender and labor ministry. I have decided to leave the matter to the authorities,” she said.

It has been established that Namuli was taken by Six Stars International Limited, a company with offices on Bombo Road. Eva Birungi, the managing director of Six Stars International, said the company was aware of Namuli’s case.

“Namuli was burnt in an accident. She was trying to place a container of hot oil onto a shelf when it poured on her. Her bosses took her to hospital and she is still receiving treatment. She has not been forced to work as her mother alleges. We are trying to arrange for her return as soon as she gets the medical results,” Birungi said.

She said the company was in touch with Namuli’s bosses and the hospital. She said the doctors advised that Namuli should first get better so that she can travel with no pain. However, Alex Sembatya, the founder of Make a Child Smile, an anti-human trafficking organization which has been repatriating victims from the Middle East, said Namuli contacted them three weeks ago seeking help. She told them that she was forced to return to work even before her hand could heal.

“I approached Six Stars International and they promised to send her a return ticket. It is now three weeks and they have not done so,” Sembatya said.

Of recent, several stories of domestic workers suffering sexual harassment, overworking and mistreatment have been circulating on social media. It is said when they ask to be returned home, the companies tell them to buy the return tickets.

According to standard employment contracts for domestic services, if an employee runs away or refuses to work without valid cause, the recruitment agency in Uganda shall be responsible for having them replaced or refund the cost of recruitment to the employer. And if an employee has a complaint and wants to leave the home, she must inform and give her employer three months’ notice or pay her employer money equivalent to three months’ salary.

Our team also learned that many Ugandans who lodge complaints with the recruiting agencies get ignored because the companies do not want to meet these costs.

Ronnie Mukundane, the spokesperson of the Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies, said the public was only given the inadequacies of the companies but not the problems with the Ugandan workers. He said once a worker fills in an online Uganda Migrant Workers Complaint Registration form, the Ugandan embassy in that country gets to know and can follow up.

“First of all, Ugandans are lazy when it comes to working. Most of them are not used to working for long hours and always look for small issues to complain about. That leaves the exporting company in problems,” he said.

Mukundane also alleges that some of the girls start seducing their male bosses.

“When the wives in these homes learn of the relationships they turn it into a sexual harassment case,” Mukundane said.

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Patrick Luwagga is the editorial director of cross-platform content for UGANDANZ. He works across the newsroom and with business partners to drive and develop ambitious editorial projects that include digital journalism, video, data research, polling, live events, and thought-leadership series that are supported by outside underwriting. As executive director, he is responsible for the creation of Political news section, prior to joining UGANDANZ, Patrick was the chief editor for the national weekly news magazine of Kasese Times. In that role, he covered several presidential elections, wrote and produced two television documentaries, and was a regular commentator on television and radio news programs. Patrick was born in Masaka and grew up in Kasese. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Makerere University where he was a Knight Foundation journalism fellow.