[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

SAUDI ARABIA (TIER 3)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of involuntary servitude and, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled laborers, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, including restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and non-payment of wages. Women, primarily from Asian and African countries are also believed to have been trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation; others were reportedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running away from abusive employers. In addition, Saudi Arabia is a destination country for Nigerian, Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Chadian, and Sudanese children trafficked for involuntary servitude as forced beggars and street vendors. Some Saudi nationals travel to destinations including Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh to engage in commercial sexual exploitation. Some Saudi men have also used legally contracted “temporary marriages” in countries such as Mauritania, Yemen, and Indonesia as a means by which to sexually exploit migrant workers. Females as young as seven years old are led to believe they are being wed in earnest, but upon arrival in Saudi Arabia subsequently become their husbands’ sexual slaves, are forced into domestic labor and, in some cases, prostitution.

The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making discernible efforts to do so. There is no evidence that the government criminally prosecutes or punishes trafficking offenders, particularly abusive employers and fraudulent recruiters involved in labor trafficking. Furthermore, it has not been observed that the government took law enforcement action against trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in Saudi Arabia, or took any steps to provide victims of sex trafficking with protection. In general, victim protection efforts in Saudi Arabia remain weak, with authorities failing to institute a formal victim identification procedure and often treating victims of trafficking as criminals. The government shows no sign of significant political commitment to addressing the serious issue of involuntary servitude in the Kingdom; indeed, an official responsible for such matters has denied that trafficking in persons takes place in Saudi Arabia. Despite tightening immigration laws and visa entry requirements, there has been no prevention of the trafficking of men, women, and children who migrate legally and voluntarily, but who are subsequently trafficked into involuntary servitude or commercial sexual exploitation.

Recommendations for Saudi Arabia: Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that criminalizes all forms of trafficking in persons and assigns sufficiently stringent criminal penalties; significantly increase criminal prosecutions and punishments of traffickers, including abusive employers and those culpable of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation; institute a formal victim identification mechanism to distinguish trafficking victims among the thousands of workers it deports each year for immigration violations and other crimes; ensure that trafficking victims are not detained or punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as violations of immigration regulations; extend protection to victims of sex trafficking; undertake public awareness campaigns to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism committed by Saudi nationals abroad; consider measures to prevent labor trafficking, such as ensuring that all workers hold their own passports and are free to depart the country without requiring permission from their sponsors, and extending labor law protections to domestic workers.

Saudi Arabia made no discernible efforts to criminally prosecute or punish trafficking offenses during the reporting period. While the government points to examples of employers being jailed or fined, these examples are rare and are usually only in cases of extreme physical abuse that may or may not include trafficking. The government does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, but penalizes forced labor through Articles 229-242 of its Labor Law. Penalties prescribed under these forced labor statutes, however, are limited to fines or bans on future hiring, and are not sufficiently stringent. These laws also do not apply to domestic servants, the primary victims of forced labor in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, it was reported that the Shura Council discussed a number of draft regulations that would prohibit some activities that facilitate human trafficking, including a proposed comprehensive anti-trafficking law. Saudi Arabia does not have a law specifically prohibiting trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. The Saudi government asserts that Shari’a (Islamic) law can be used to prosecute trafficking offenses, though in practice no prosecution of such cases was observed. Trafficking victims are often deported without receiving assistance and with little or no compensation. By May 2008, all charges were dropped and a conviction was nullified against the employer of Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker who was severely abused, exploited, and enslaved in a Saudi residence in 2004 and 2005; after years of seeking justice in her well publicized case, Ms. Miyati was awarded just $668 in compensation by a Saudi court. In addition, despite available administrative laws, the government does not regularly enforce fines or bans on hiring workers imposed upon abusive employers or recruitment agencies. Police continue to be criticized for being unresponsive to requests for help from foreign workers. Furthermore, it has been maintained by some observers that the social status of the employer weighs heavily on the chances of a judge siding with a plaintiff’s case in court, with wealthy individuals, high officials, and royalty rarely if ever losing a case. As in previous years, training was provided in January 2009 to judges, prosecutors, and investigators about trafficking; the training has not yet been observed to result in improved criminal law enforcement against trafficking in persons. Adequate enforcement is not possible without a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that clearly outlines jail time and fines for specific acts.

Saudi Arabia made insufficient efforts to protect victims of trafficking. The government operates deportation facilities for runaway workers in several cities and a shelter for female domestic workers in Riyadh. The government sometimes pays workers’ repatriation expenses but not their claims for compensation. However, many victims are not provided access to government facilities or shelter; they must seek refuge at their embassies, negotiate settlements with their employers, and independently obtain funds to return home. Of particular concern is Saudi Arabia’s continued lack of a formal procedure to identify victims of trafficking from among vulnerable populations, such as foreigners detained for immigration violations or women arrested for prostitution. As a result, victims of trafficking are often punished or automatically deported without being offered protection. Women arrested for prostitution are not interviewed for evidence of trafficking and may be subjected to stringent corporal punishment under Saudi law. Women who have been raped by their employers have found themselves imprisoned or sentenced to lashes for “moral criminality.” Although Saudi Arabia offers temporary relief from deportation to some victims who identify themselves to authorities, those who have run away from their employers, overstayed their visas, or otherwise violated the legal terms of their visas may be jailed. Saudi officials do not encourage victims to assist in investigations against their traffickers, and often discourage cooperation by persuading victims to take monetary compensation in lieu of filing criminal charges against their employers or by returning to their employers. The length of time to process cases against employers leads many foreign workers to drop both criminal and monetary claims, choosing instead to return to their home countries in lieu of submitting to a legal process. There is no mechanism in place under Saudi law for continuing such cases once the employee has departed Saudi Arabia. Although the government reports providing legal services to victims, the lack of translation assistance and lengthy and costly delays often discourage victims. Some children caught in begging rings are now sent to juvenile shelters and reportedly offered counseling and medical care instead of being put into prison, which was previously the norm. The government does not offer legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.

Saudi Arabia has not made significant efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. Although the Shura Council indicated its intent to discuss a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in November 2008, there has been no public discussion of the matter to date. The government continues to produce brochures about workers’ rights in Arabic, English, and some source country languages, but the distribution of these materials appears extremely limited. Officials tend to favor employers -- particularly those who are well-connected -- who claimed they were victims of nonperforming, negligent migrant workers and accuse them of such offenses as child abuse and witchcraft and even more routinely of theft. No information was available from the government about measures taken during the reporting period to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Similarly, there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia took steps to reduce participation in child sex tourism by its nationals abroad.