Death of a housemaid: the tragedy of Rizana Nafeek

Rizana Nafeek's photo in the doctored passport that claimed she was older than her 17 years.  Credit: Commons

Rizana Nafeek’s photo in the doctored passport that claimed she was older than her 17 years. Credit: Commons

Caritas Sri Lanka Director Fr George Sigamoney says he is deeply upset by the execution of Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia on 9 January.

Caritas had fought for her release since she was sentenced in 2007 to beheading for strangling a baby she was looking after as a nanny in 2005. Rizana was just a minor herself when the tragedy took place. She maintains that it was an accident caused by her inexperienced efforts to save the baby from choking.

“Unfortunately, what we expected to happen happened,” he said. “As a representative of the Church and of Caritas I want to express my sorrow and solidarity to Rizana’s family. I pray for them that they may have the courage needed to face their pain and get through this moment.”

“I want to remember Rizana in another way,” Fr George said. “As a nation, we must reflect and weep for the loss of this young life.”

Rizana Nafeek was among the approximately 1.5 million women, mostly from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines, working in private homes in Saudi Arabia. While some are treated well, domestic workers in Saudi Arabia enjoy fewer legal protections than any other type of workers and human rights groups have documented abuses.

Sri Lanka has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia following the execution. Fr. George said, “I believe the time has come for government authorities to deal in a serious manner with the predicament of migrant workers seeking employment in the Middle East.”

The case has also caused widespread global outrage.

Caroline Nanzer, a project manager at Caritas Migrant Centre in Lebanon said, “The kafala system [sponsorship system] ties the employer to the employee and this system is also the cause of the many abuses that the maid workers suffer here in the Middle East …. What happened to Nafeek is also the consequence of a system that should be ended as soon as possible.”

Caritas Internationalis is urging Middle East and Gulf States to ratify and implement an ILO convention and recommendation on the protection of domestic workers that contains also special provisions for  domestic workers who are migrants. Among other things, upon ratification the convention puts pressure on governments to ensure they adapt their laws so that there are provisions for the respect of migrant domestic workers rights.

Sources: Asia News and Al Jazeera

Caritas Internationalis

President: Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
Secretary General: Michel Roy

Caritas Internationalis
Palazzo San Calisto
Vatican City State

Reception Desk: + 39 06 698 797 99
Fax: + 39 06 698 872 37

The office is open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm.

If you need to contact a staff member outside of office hours in a humanitarian emergency, please call + 39 334 359 0700 or email