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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Surveillance cameras to monitor maids?



Yesterday, I read a news report which said that an increasing number of households are installing surveillance cameras at home to monitor their domestic helps.

Monitoring domestic maids? Hmm… maids. It is nothing new that offences committed by housemaids these days have become major talk at gatherings and on social networking sites. And it comes as no surprise that many families are opting for cameras installed at home.

Even I have had that bad experience from the maids of my neighbours. My clothes, sometimes, new used to disappear and I had no evidence to blame or to enquire with those maids!

Here, in Qatar, surveillance cameras are everywhere, from schools to hospitals to malls to major buildings to public places.
Having these cameras may not only help parents to monitor the activities of the maids, but also their kids. Maybe recent crimes like contaminating food with human body fluids in neighbouring GCC countries, horrifying stories of children being tortured, black magic by domestic helps and local stories about stealing and illicit relationships might have made the families to think about installing cameras at home.

But the question is how can a human being be monitored 24 hours? Is it not an interference, an encroachment on the maids’ human rights and privacy? Is it not spying, easily dubbed as surveillance? Even if it is, who cares? They are paid to do the services and they should just do that… I think now working mothers can feel at ease, as they can install a camera at home and then link it to their mobile phones and check on their children even while they are at work.

Most of the crimes and misconduct will happen if the housemaids are treated improperly. If they are treated well, with dignity, why would they even think of misbehaving with the kids or doing something wrong? If they are treated like a member of the family, if there is a good communication and good relationship with maids, may be there wouldn’t be a need to install such cameras. If children are taught to respect the maids like other elders, there’s no doubt that these women will always stay by the family and there won’t be any fear of misbehaviour.
If employers deal with their domestic workers in a human and civilised manner… provide them with their needs, including proper accommodation, food and clothing… give their wages on time… nice treatment of the maids will surely curtail their negative feelings towards the family and prevent them from taking revenge because of bad treatment.

Domestic workers could become criminals because of cruel treatment by their employers. Some of them could be pushed to take in on the children or mix urine or other dirty materials with family meals.
I have come across reportswhere Dubai police have handled some cases involving maids placing their urine in foods and drinks served for their employing families.

And even crimes committed by housemaids in Dubai increased by nearly 17 per cent in 2011 and police believe they were mainly driven by the employer’s cruelty and the worker’s ignorance of the region’s traditions. Figures showed 1,010 reported crimes were committed by domestic workers in Dubai in 2011 compared with 862 in 2010. 

As many as 506 crimes, more than half the total, involved absconding offences, while 108 were associated with sexual abuses. There were also 94 breach of trust cases and 48 thefts from employing houses. The largest theft case involved a maid who stole Dh 1.17 million from her female employer! It is a different thing that she was later arrested and the sum was retrieved.

A breakdown showed Asian domestic workers were the main culprits, mainly because they are the majority in Dubai, committing 583 offences. African maids were involved in 270 crimes and the rest were responsible for 157 crimes.

Cruelty to maids will eventually push them to retaliate. There are some situations where families overburden their maids with household work or deny their rights like depriving them from contacting their families at home or taking enough rest. And sometimes it so happens like, many families here, have no idea about the traditions and culture of the maids’ home countries! Likewise, most maids who are brought into the Middle East are either not qualified or are not aware of the local habits and culture.

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