In Depth

Recruitment agencies order Sri Lankan women to take contraceptives before working in the Middle East

Agencies offer guarantee that women desperate for work will not fall pregnant

Sri Lankan women who move to the Middle East and Gulf states in order to take up domestic jobs are being are being told to take contraceptives before leaving.

Six recruiters licensed by the Sri Lankan government said they could provide an employer with a “three-month guarantee” that a maid would not become pregnant.

An agent from Gulf Jobs in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, told The Guardian: “Before we can send a maid, there is a medical check-up by the government and no one can influence that. But once the medical test is done… there is a device we can give in them. If you want it, we can arrange it.”

While no women affected were prepared to speak openly about being forced to take contraceptives, the Guardian found that many recruitment agencies make migrant workers take Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive that lasts for three months.

Rahini Bhaskaran, coordinator of Migrants Network, a migrant rights organisation, said women were so desperate for work that they complied unquestioningly with the stipulations of recruiters.

“Most women don’t know what the injections are for,” she said. “They are not told anything about it.”

Bhaskaran added that the contraceptive serves a double purpose: covering up potential sexual assaults by recruitment agents and serving as a guarantee to prospective employers in the Gulf that workers will not get pregnant.

“Some women think it’s necessary… to have sex with the agents to go abroad. The agents coax women, even promising marriage in some cases, and then abuse them,” said Bhaskaran.

Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Migrant domestic workers in the Gulf are treated as commodities by agencies and employers to the extent that their bodies and their choices are no longer theirs at the point of migration. When they go into employment, it’s this power dynamic that allows exploitation and abuse to flourish.”

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