UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS have called on Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam to crack down on human trafficking, after documenting the abuse of women and girls recruited in Viet Nam to serve as domestic workers in the kingdom.

Speaking on 4 November, they said: “We are seeing traffickers targeting Vietnamese women and girls living in poverty, many of whom are already vulnerable and marginalised,” adding, “Traffickers operate with impunity”.

After signing on with labour recruitment companies in Viet Nam, some girls and women found themselves sexually abused, beaten and subjected to torture and other cruel treatment by employers once they arrived in Saudi Arabia, the experts said. Often the women were denied food and medical treatment, not paid at all, or paid less than stipulated in their contracts.

“We urge Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam to adopt effective measures and policies to prevent and combat trafficking in persons and to protect trafficked workers”, the experts said. “We also call on these governments to ensure that bilateral cooperation on labour migration is human rights-based and includes effective accountability mechanisms. Saudi Arabia should bring migrant domestic workers under its labour law protections and extend the reforms of its Kafala system to such workers.”

The experts said they had received “truly alarming allegations” that some companies in Viet Nam recruited girls as domestic workers and forged their age on identity documents to hide the fact they were children.

They cited the case of one 15-year-old Vietnamese girl who became ill because of beatings inflicted by her employer, who also denied her food and medical treatment. She arranged to return home but died before she could board her flight back to Viet Nam. Because her documents had been forged by the labour recruitment agency, her family has not yet been able to get her body returned home.

Between 3 September and 28 October 2021, nearly 205 women, many alleged victims of trafficking, were repatriated to Viet Nam. The experts called on Viet Nam to strengthen the welfare services and assistance provided to the women who return, including legal assistance, medical and psychosocial care.

They urged both governments to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into human rights abuses perpetrated against migrant women and girls, and alleged involvement of public authorities in human trafficking, and to prosecute the perpetrators.

“We further remind Viet Nam and Saudi Arabia of their international legal obligations to cooperate in order to combat trafficking in persons, including in criminal justice investigations, provision of effective remedies and assistance to victims of trafficking,” said the experts.

The Special Procedures mandate holders have been in contact with Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam in relation to these allegations. They would like to continue this constructive engagement with both Governments.

* More on Saudia Arabia’s Kafala system here.

* Source: OHCHR