Abdicating responsibility – The Sunday Observer

While the video footage of a Sri Lankan housemaid getting assaulted allegedly by her agents in the Kingdom of Kuwait went viral, questions are being raised as to why the victim, 40- year- old Kanthi Thilakalatha was released by the Sri Lankan mission to the agency before the investigation concluded.

Thilakalatha is reportedly under medical treatment at a hospital in Kuwait while her family claims she has never required treatment for ‘mental illness.’

A spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) said, according to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait, Thilakalatha does not show any signs of physical injuries.

“Until we get the medical reports we cannot confirm what she is being treated for. But the Sri Lankan Embassy Labour Attaché has visited her at the hospital,” said Upul Deshapriya, SLBFE Spokesperson. The victim’s husband, Wijeratne, was informed that Thilakalatha is under treatment for a ‘mental illness.’

“She had no such condition when she left the country and she has been periodically working abroad for almost 10years,” Wijeratne said. He claims to have spoken to his wife three times after her hospital admission – once when a representative from the Sri Lanka Embassy in Kuwait visited her and twice when two relatives, also working in Kuwait, visited her. “She sounded delusional.

I’m waiting for her return after the hospital discharges her and I do not want to see her going abroad again. She suffered enough,” he said.

Adding to his agony of having a wife suffering all by herself on a foreign land, their youngest son, a Grade Five student, is now refusing to attend school as his schoolmates often gather around him to inquire about his mother and discuss the ‘Youtube’ video clip which had gone viral, which shows his mother getting beaten up.

According to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) Kanthi from Makulpotha, Polpithigama travelled to Kuwait for the fourth time on 30 March 2015. Her husband confirmed that she had been remained in contact with the family until August 28. “Later, when I tried to contact her, the phone was not working,” said Wijeratne.

Family problems

A troubled Wijeratne claimed that theirs was not a ‘dysfunctional’ family as many would assum, though the family had to deal with regular problems of a household where the mother is absent due to being employed overseas.Today, their elder son, who is in his early 20s, is employed at a private company in Avissawella. “Kanthi went abroad for the first time when our eldest was two years old. We were poor farmers and she did it for the family,” he added. This is not the first time that Kanthi travelled to Kuwait through a recruitment agency named ‘Transgulf.’. “A relative of mine worked as a sub agent for this agency and it is through him that my wife was introduced to the agency. Not only her, but many other women from the village have travelled through this agency and are now working in Middle Eastern countries,” he explained.

Initially, the SLBFE temporarily suspended the license of the recruitment agency until the completion of the inquiry. As the investigations are continuing, the SLBFE has removed the temporary suspension with effect from October 16, said SLBFE Spokesman, Attorney-at-Law, Upul Deshapriya.

“There is no hard evidence against the recruitment agency since the incident happened in a house owned by the foreign agent based in Kuwait,” explained Deshapriya. According to Deshapirya, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait is continuing with the investigations and has already questioned the foreign agent Sara Aied Matar Al Shamri Recruitment Agency located at Tunis Street, Hawali, Kuwait.

He also said that Thilakalatha has approached the safe house operated by the Embassy and her agent based in Kuwait has got her released from the safe house.

Thereafter, Thilakalatha was sheltered in a house owned by the Kuwait Agent and it is where she was beaten up, according to the investigation, explained Deshapirya. He further said, Thilakalatha will be brought back to Sri Lanka soon after being discharged from the hospital.

Proprietor of the Transgulf Recruitment Agency, Mohamed Fazly, refused to comment as the mater is still being investigated. “We are a SLBFE-approved agency and adhere to stipulated regulations,” said Fazly.

Questions unanswered

Of the entire Sri Lankan migrant worker population, 34 per cent comprises women in low- skilled jobs the domestic sector. Many are subjected to harassment and torture as they work within homes and most incidents are likely to go unreported.

According to Viola Perera of the Action Network for Migrant Workers, there is always a question of women migrants’ safety concerns that are hardly addressed. Perera noted that their safety, both physical and legal are often compromised due to their own lack of knowledge. “In addition, the current system is highly porous and any there are many crooked agents too,” she said.

Perera raises the strong questions as to why the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait released the victim to the agent without properly investigating the matter. “She approached the safe house for a reason. The Embassy should have inquired in to the matter before releasing her,” Perera insisted.