A four-year-old boy died on Monday in Saudi Arabia after allegedly being burned at home by a pot of boiling milk.
The Dubai-based Gulf News reports that the boy, Aafat Fawwaz Al Shalaan, was admitted to Abdul Rahman Al Sudairi Central Hospital in the town of Sakaka on Sunday and died the next day.
According to Saudi media reports, the boy’s family is accusing its Ethiopian domestic worker of pushing the boy onto the pot.
The Saudi Gazette reports, “Fawwaz Al-Shaalan, the boy's father, had initially thought of rewarding the maid for saving his son after he had fallen into a boiling pan. Later on, the maid claimed that she was the reason behind his death. Attempts to contact the Ethiopian consulate in Jeddah have failed.”
This is the second time this month that a domestic worker has been accused of being involved in the death of a child, prompting Saudi citizens to launch an emotional debate over the screening process for foreign nationals hired to work inside their homes.
Quoting a report in the Saudi publication Okaz, Gulf News writes that the female domestic worker who is a native of Ethiopia is in the custody of police who are investigating the incident.
Gulf News reports, “The father added that the family had always treated the maid well, and alleged that the maid admitted to pushing the child onto the pot. Police officials interviewed by Saudi media did not confirm or deny the allegation.”
It appears the case is not so clear cut, as the child’s uncle was quoted by the Saudi Gazette claiming the death may have been caused by a medical mistake. “He said the hospital report showed that only 20 percent of Afat’s body was burned, and that an injection administered at the hospital had rendered the boy unconscious and led to his subsequent death,” the Saudi Gazette reported, adding that it spoke to an unnamed medical source who also alleged improper medical treatment.
The report of Aafat’s death comes on the heels of a report earlier this month alleging that an Ethiopian domestic worker stabbed to death a 10-year-old girl who was in her charge.
Whether the allegations are true or not, the reports have sparked a fierce debate in the kingdom where some 10 million foreign nationals work and make up more than half of the population. Of those, more than two million are reported to be domestic servants. There are 16 million Saudi citizens in the oil rich kingdom.
Last week, the Saudi English newspaper Arab News published an article vilifying the Ethiopian workers headlined, “Ethiopian maid? No thanks!”
“Fearing for the lives of their children after two Ethiopian maids killed two young girls in their care recently in separate incidents, a number of Saudi and expat families want to get rid of their maids from Ethiopia,” the paper wrote.
As a result of the outcry, the Saudi Ministries of Labor and Interior decided not to issue any new visas for Ethiopians applying to be domestic workers until the investigations into the deaths are complete. In addition, some families have posted online notices saying they want to dismiss their Ethiopian workers.
Saudis are pushing for a better screening process for those traveling to work in the country, especially those working as nannies.
While the Saudis are voicing concern about the Ethiopians, human rights groups have criticized the treatment of foreign migrants working in Saudi Arabia.
The issue even reached the U.S. TheBlaze reported earlier this month about the case of 42-year-old Meshael Alayban, a Saudi princess charged with human trafficking. Prosecutors say she was holding a domestic worker against her will at a California condominium. Though she was freed from custody after posting $5 million bail, authorities imposed strict travel restrictions and GPS tracking to keep her in Southern California. If convicted of one count of human trafficking, she would face up to 12 years in prison.
The Guardian reported in January that “more than 45 foreign maids are facing execution on death row in Saudi Arabia…amid growing international outrage at the treatment of migrant workers.”
The Guardian quoted Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which say many migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia face abuse.
"Some domestic workers find kind employers who treat them well, but others face intense exploitation and abuse, ranging from months of hard work without pay to physical violence to slavery-like conditions," said Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia beheaded Rizana Nafeek, a 24-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker accused of killing a baby; however human rights groups said she signed a confession under duress and that an autopsy was never conducted to determine if the child died of smothering as the family suggested or by choking during a bottle feeding.
"The Saudi justice system is characterized by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments," Varia told the British paper in January. "Migrants are at high risk of being victims of spurious charges. A domestic worker facing abuse or exploitation from her employer might run away and then be accused of theft. Employers may accuse domestic workers, especially those from Indonesia, of witchcraft. Victims of rape and sexual assault are at risk of being accused of adultery and fornication."
Arab News reports that some 200 Ethiopian domestic workers have gone to a police shelter asking to return to Africa.
Apparently in response to the Saudi visa freeze, Ethiopia has reportedly canceled 40,000 visas for domestic workers destined for Saudi Arabia and “has permanently stopped sending any manpower,” Al Bawaba reports on Wednesday.
“The decision apparently came in retaliation for the Saudi government’s decision last week to impose a temporary ban on the recruitment of house workers from Ethiopia,” the Middle Eastern news site added.