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Woman guilty of keeping 'slave'

Kalayaan charity gets result in case of retired doctor's cruelty

  • Mike MacLachlan, London
  • United Kingdom
  • March 17, 2011
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The case of a Pakistani-born woman found guilty in London of slavery has again highlighted the perilous position of domestic workers and the efforts of a charity to fight for their rights.

Saeeda Khan, 68, a retired doctor, was found guilty in London yesterday of keeping a domestic servant as a slave. The offence carries a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.

A jury at Southwark crown court heard that the servant, from Tanzania, was forced to sleep on the kitchen floor and work from 6am to midnight. She was paid £120 (US$167) for her first year's work, just £10 a month, and received no pay for the following three years.

Khan a retired doctor, denied trafficking the woman into the UK to exploit her.

Prosecutor Caroline Haughey told the jury: "Deprived of her passport, communication with her family and her liberty, it is only right that the conditions she existed under be described as modern-day slavery."

The case came to court after the charity Kalayaan, which campaigns on behalf of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in UK, notified police.

In the past, Kalayaan’s community advocate, Jenny Moss, said in a statement, it has had “significant difficulties in trying to get trafficking for domestic servitude recognized by the police. We are therefore encouraged that a case has finally come to court.”

Last year Kalayaan sparked a government inquiry when it revealed that some London-based diplomats, mainly from the Middle East, were trafficking MDWs.

Five of the trafficked women were Indonesian and four from the Philippines, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The group is now campaigning to extend government rules which, after a campaign by Kalayaan, include the right to change employer once in Britain. At present these rules do not apply to diplomats.

It is a criminal offence to hold MDWs’ passports without permission, keep them under lock and key against their will, or use violence – sexually or otherwise -- against them.

But 18 per cent of complaints Kalayaan received last year concerned physical assault and three per cent sex abuse. As many as 60 per cent of complainants said they were not allowed out of the house.

Many – 49 per cent – did not have their own room but slept in a hall, living room, kitchen or child’s room. And some had to sleep on the floor or share a bed with children. Nearly half – 48 per cent - said they worked 16 or more hours a day and 56 per cent that they were paid less than £50 ($81) a week.

“The isolated and unregulated nature of their work within a private household means that MDWs are vulnerable to exploitative and abusive practices,” Kalayaan said in its last annual report.

It added that “alarmingly it is likely that [its] figures do not reveal the full extent of the problem.”

Kalayaan has been working on behalf of MDWs for 25 years. The name was chosen because when it started the overwhelming majority of its clients were from the Philippines.

The highest number of new clients still comes from the Philippines, India and Indonesia. There are also clients from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and a handful from Bangladesh and Thailand.

Kalayaan helps them by providing advice, support and advocacy services, including legal advice provided by volunteers from leading law firms.

It also runs highly popular English classes and at its headquarters at a Catholic community centre in West London it provides a meeting place where the women can gather for a hot drink, a meal or just a chat.

UK13635.1645
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