Kuwait is a destination country for men and women who are subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser degree, forced prostitution. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Iraq to work in Kuwait, mainly in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation sectors. Although most of these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival their sponsors and labor agents subject some migrants to conditions of forced labor, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and the withholding of passports. While Kuwait requires a standard contract for domestic workers delineating some basic rights, many workers report work conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract; some workers never see the contract at all. According to the Kuwaiti government, between September 2011 to April 2012 the Filipino and Ethiopian domestic worker population increased dramatically, accounting for 86 percent of the total increase in Kuwait’s domestic worker population over the same period. Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labor broker fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer—a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage, once in Kuwait. The media reported that Kuwaiti employers brought unskilled workers into Kuwait on “commercial” visas without providing them with work permits; this left workers unprotected under labor regulations and vulnerable to abuse, including conditions of forced labor. Kuwait’s sponsorship law restricts workers’ movements and penalizes them for “running away” from abusive workplaces; as a result, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor inside private homes. In addition, media sources report that runaway domestic workers fall prey to forced prostitution by agents or criminals who exploit their illegal status.
The Government of Kuwait does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making sufficient efforts to do so. Although the government enacted an anti-trafficking law in March 2013, the government did not demonstrate significant efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders using previously existing laws. There was no lead national anti-trafficking coordinating body, and the government did not systematically monitor its anti-trafficking efforts. The government’s victim protection measures remained weak, particularly due to the lack of proactive victim identification and referral procedures and continued reliance on the sponsorship system, which inherently punishes, rather than protects, trafficking victims for immigration violations. The government continued to operate a temporary shelter for runaway female domestic workers, though it offered no shelter for male victims of trafficking. The government also did not fulfill other commitments made since 2007, such as enacting a law to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers and opening a large-capacity permanent shelter for victims of trafficking. The government similarly continued to make insufficient efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. For these reasons, Kuwait is placed on Tier 3 for a seventh consecutive year.
Recommendations for Kuwait: Implement the 2013 anti-trafficking law by investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses, and convicting and punishing offenders—particularly sponsors—who subject domestic workers to involuntary servitude; enact and enforce the draft domestic workers bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers; establish procedures to proactively identify all victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; open the large-scale shelter for all trafficking victims and provide relevant training to shelter staff; amend the sponsorship law to protect foreign workers, including domestic workers, from abuse; enforce existing laws against sponsors and employers who illegally hold migrant workers’ passports; provide additional anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials; and significantly increase efforts to prevent trafficking.
The government made limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. It enacted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in March 2013. The government failed to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders using previously existing laws. Kuwait prohibits all forms of trafficking through its new anti-trafficking law. The new law prescribes penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Before February 2013, the government could have prosecuted and punished many trafficking offenses under the Kuwaiti criminal code, but there was little evidence it did so. For example, the criminal code prohibits some forms of transnational slavery in Article 185, which prescribes a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. In addition, Law 16/1960 criminalizes forced labor or exploitation, while maltreatment that leads to death is considered first-degree murder. Article 201, which prohibits forced prostitution, prescribes a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment if the victim is an adult and seven years’ if the victim is under the age of 18. These prescribed penalties also are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses.
During the reporting period, the government did not report any arrests, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of traffickers for either forced labor or sex trafficking. Although the withholding of workers’ passports is prohibited under Kuwaiti law, this practice remains common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, and the government demonstrated no genuine efforts to enforce this prohibition. Almost none of the domestic workers who took refuge in their home-country embassy shelters had passports in their possession. The government remained reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens for trafficking offenses. When Kuwaiti nationals were investigated for trafficking offenses, they tended to receive less scrutiny than foreigners. Kuwaiti law enforcement generally treated cases of forced labor as administrative labor infractions, for which punishment was limited to assessing fines, shutting down employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back-wages. The government did not conduct anti-trafficking trainings for government officials during the reporting period.
During the year, the government made inadequate efforts to protect victims of trafficking. Victims of trafficking were frequently arrested, detained, and deported. Despite several years of this Report’s recommending the government develop and implement formal procedures for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers and women in prostitution, it did not do so; nor did it develop and implement a referral mechanism to provide adequate protection services to victims. The 2013 anti-trafficking legislation did not provide protection from prosecution for victims who fled abusive employers. Furthermore, Kuwait’s migrant sponsorship law effectively dissuades foreign workers from reporting abuses committed by their employers to government authorities. Workers who left their employer’s residences without permission faced criminal and financial penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment, the equivalent of over approximately $2,000 in fines, and deportation, even if they were fleeing from an abusive sponsor. The threat of these consequences discouraged workers from appealing to police or other government authorities for protection and from obtaining adequate legal redress for their exploitation. Nonetheless, some foreign victims of trafficking received monetary settlements from their employers; however, the government did not bring trafficking-related charges against such employers. Moreover, victims were not offered legal aid by the government. Anecdotally, NGO sources reported that in this reporting period, police conducted raids on 2,000 migrant workers and detained them in a deportation center where some languished for as long as six months. There was no indication that police implemented measures to identify trafficking victims among this population or provide protective services to migrants who may have experienced conditions of human trafficking.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL) continued to operate a short-term shelter for runaway domestic workers with a maximum capacity of 40; however, the shelter detained victims involuntarily until their legal or immigration cases were resolved. The government continued to fail to report the number of trafficking victims assisted at this shelter during the reporting period. It is unclear whether victims of forced prostitution could access this temporary shelter, and there continued to be no shelter or other protective services afforded for male victims of trafficking. In 2007, the government announced it would open a high-capacity shelter for runaway domestic workers; this shelter was still not operational at the end of the reporting period. Many domestic workers continued to seek assistance at their embassies in Kuwait; some source-country embassies reported that 450-600 domestic workers ran away from their employers each month. The government provided some source countries with funds to pay for the repatriation of some runaway domestic workers sheltered at their embassies in Kuwait. The government did not provide funding to domestic NGOs or international organizations that provide direct services to trafficking victims. The government did not encourage victims of trafficking to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, and it did not offer foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.
The government made no discernible progress in preventing trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The government does not have a national coordinating body responsible for anti-trafficking efforts and the government did not conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns. Source-country embassies reported the Kuwaiti government failed to investigate, penalize, or blacklist a company for its reported labor violations, including withholding workers’ passports and unsanitary working conditions. The National Assembly voted on the first of two required readings in favor of legislation to create a General Authority for Manpower, as required by the 2010 Private Sector Labor Law. The draft legislation, which was not enacted at the end of the reporting period, would mark a significant step forward in replacing the current sponsorship system. In January 2013, the media reported that police investigated alleged complicity of government officials within MOSAL for illegally selling visas under the sponsorship system; the investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. As in previous years, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs made a nationwide effort to reduce overseas child sex tourism by requiring some Sunni mosques to deliver Friday sermons on the danger of sex abroad and Islam’s strict teachings against improper sexual relations.