Migrant domestic workers of various nationalities chanting slogans during a demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon | Photo: ANSA ARCHIVE/EPA/WAEL HAMZEH
Migrant domestic workers of various nationalities chanting slogans during a demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon | Photo: ANSA ARCHIVE/EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

Lebanon is abolishing its sponsorship system for domestic workers, which many have likened to slavery. According to local media, the decision is "an enormous step" in the fight for human rights.

Lebanon, a country still shaken by the devastating August 4 explosion and struggling with its worst economic and political crisis of the past 30 years, is now taking "an enormous step" in the fight for human rights with a new, long-awaited law for the protection of domestic workers.

Outgoing Lebanese Labour Minister Lara Yammine on Wednesday provided the media with the entire text of the new "unified labor contract" for migrant domestic workers. 

The issue has been at the center of a bitter debate for years. The current domestic worker system, called the "kafala" (guarantee) system, allows employers to have exceptional privileges over their home carers and domestic workers, who are often deprived of fundamental rights. The system has often been defined by critics as one of "semi-slavery".

A new labor contract 

The new contract is part of a law that was approved shortly before the government of Hassan Diab resigned on August 10. However, the text of the law went into effect formally only in recent days, making the new work contract finally a reality. 

The law is the result of a year and a half of work that began in the country's labor ministry, together with a platform of international and civil society organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

For years in Lebanon, as in many other Middle Eastern and Gulf countries, the job of migrant domestic workers was not regulated. Media reports on Wednesday recalled that in many cases, employers turned into "owners", treating the domestic workers "like actual slaves". 

In Beirut alone, there are dozens of suicide attempts by domestic workers each year due to the abuse and violence they suffer at the hands of their employers. 

Organizations call for structural reforms 

The enactment of this new law is seen as a victory by civil society organizations, which have been fighting for years for human rights and promoting highly anticipated structural reforms. 

Since last October, Lebanon has been experiencing popular anti-government protests amidst a backdrop of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, the likes of which hasn't been seen for decades. 

The civil society organizations that worked on the "anti-kafala" law are the same ones that have been working for months to demand structural reforms. Representatives from some of these organizations met on Tuesday with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, who was visiting Beirut following the explosion there on August 4. 

At least 192 people died in the blaze, many of whom were domestic workers or home carers from countries including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and India. These are the exact women that the new law focuses on.
 

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