Migrant labor exploitation and human trafficking in the Persian Gulf;Bahrain

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Bahrain is a small archipelago located in the southwestern coast of the Persian Gulf. It is a Muslim country with a Shi’a majority that has been ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family since the 18th century.

Bahrain’s government is comprised of a bicameral parliament consisting of the Shura Council and the Council of Representatives. The unelected Shura Council is appointed by the king and holds the majority of power; for instance, bills need approval of the Shura Council before being enacted into law. With the lowest amount of crude reserves in the GCC, Bahrain found it necessary to diversify its economy early, and currently possesses one of the most diversified economies in the region. While much of the economy is still dependent on the export of petroleum products, service industries are among the fastest growing sectors of the Bahraini economy. Foreign workers represent approximately half of Bahrain’s population of 1.2 million people. The three countries that send the most migrants to Bahrain are India, Pakistan and Egypt, while migrants from Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Russia continue to increase in number. Comprising approximately 77% of Bahrain’s workforce, migrant workers have made great contributions to the economic development of the country.


Workers often come to Bahrain with hopes of finding an opportunity to provide for their families back home. Yet in reality, migrant workers are often lured to Bahrain by recruiting agencies with false promises of better wages and decent working conditions, often accumulating large amounts of debt in the process. On arrival, migrant workers often face significant abuse at the hands of their employers, including unpaid wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours, physical abuse, and forced labor. A lack of law enforcement by police and slow, lengthy complaint procedures in Bahrain means that punishment for abusive employers is rare. 


Additionally, migrant workers may be reluctant to report or leave an abusive situation because of fear or lack of money, often exacerbated by heavy debt accumulated before their arrival in Bahrain. Even if a worker does escape, he or she may be identified as an illegal migrant and detained. Social discrimination is also a factor in the lack of progress toward implementing protections for migrant workers. Their experience is often ignored by Bahraini society, as the victims are foreign nationals who are often discriminated against and are considered to have low social status. This makes it even more difficult to protect victims and prevent further abuse from occurring. Additionally, women are among the most vulnerable of migrant workers, as they work primarily as domestic servants and are not at all protected by labor laws in Bahrain. These factors create favorable conditions for trafficking purposed towards forced labor or sex. 


The Government of Bahrain has taken limited measures to protect migrant rights and combat human trafficking in the country. In the last several years, the government has passed a series of laws designed to dismantle the kafala system, instituted complaint mechanisms for persons victimized by human trafficking, and created a shelter for women forced into prostitution.


However, the government has failed to back these efforts with proper implementation; kafala remains significantly operative in the country, the complaints mechanism is not widely publicized, and the shelter is seldom used. In order to truly tackle the issues plaguing the country, the government needs to recommit to implementing the reforms that it has passed, as well as legislate and enforce new reforms better targeted at solving the issues.


Identifying Bahrain’s Migrant Workers


As of 2013, foreign employment comprised 77% of total employment in Bahrain, a 5.1% increase from 2012. The presence of migrant labor alleviates unemployment in source countries and provides inexpensive labor for growing industries. Foreign migrants work predominantly in the private sector; men are most often employed by large construction companies and women are most often employed as domestic workers. Migrant workers come to Bahrain predominantly from South and Southeast Asia. According to the most recent statistics collected in 2011 by the Government of Bahrain’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA), the majority of male migrant workers are from India (55%) while most female migrant workers are from the Philippines (42%). Recently, there has been an increase in African migrant workers from Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, many of whom are illegal. The exact number of African workers currently in Bahrain is unknown because migration often occurs through unregulated and informal channels, but it is estimated that over 100,000 workers came from these countries in 2012. Many migrant workers come from impoverished backgrounds and have little to no education; data collected by the government in 2010 indicates that 22% of migrant workers are illiterate or have only a primary education. Illiterate migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to maltreatment as a result of their inability to communicate with their employer or understand the legal protections to which they may have access.


The Kafala System and Recruitment Processes 


Deception and exploitation often begins even before migrant workers leave their home countries. The kafala system, which requires workers to be sponsored by employers to live and work in Bahrain, often, facilitates this exploitation. Workers are provided to potential employers via recruitment agencies in source countries. These agencies charge workers substantial fees, sometimes equal 10-20 months’ wages. Because of the substantial fees associated with seeking work in Bahrain, migrant workers regularly sell or mortgage their homes or properties to cover the cost. The debt incurred through this process means workers are less likely to be able to leave an abusive employer when they arrive in Bahrain to work. If workers do decide to leave their sponsors, they must leave the country immediately at their own expense instead of having their employers cover their return airfare at the end of their contract. This often compels a migrant worker to endure an exploitative situation, as they may feel that they have no other option but to do so.


Another avenue of exploitation is the work contracts that migrant workers may sign prior to arriving in Bahrain. Contracts may be presented to a worker in an unfamiliar language so that he or she signs it without knowing its terms. Other workers may never even see their employment contracts. Statistics published by the LMRA indicate that the majority of workers have not seen their employment contract and/or are unaware of the terms of the contract when they arrive in Bahrain. Some migrant workers may also face physical abuse or threats from recruitment agencies in order to coerce them into signing unfair contracts.


The consequences of paying large amounts in recruitment fees and/or unknowingly agreeing  to exploitative terms in the contract make migrant workers extremely vulnerable once they  arrive in Bahrain. The kafala system compounds this vulnerability, as the employee’s visa is completely dependent on a sponsoring employer. Employers take advantage of this vulnerability by withholding passports, restricting movement, engaging in contract substitution, withholding wages, issuing threats, and committing physical or sexual abuse. Given such widespread abuse of migrant workers, some source countries have made substantial efforts towards protecting their  workers travelling to Bahrain. In response to civil society pressure, some source countries have  refused to send workers until they are satisfied with the progress Bahrain has made in reforming  its migrant labor system.  For example, in 1989 the Government of Bangladesh implemented a  ban on sending domestic workers to Bahrain. However, the economic benefits sending countries  receive from their nationals working in Bahrain may prevent those countries from demanding a  more comprehensive reform of the kafala system. Additionally, the establishment of stronger  protection by one country often means that employers and recruiters turn to other source  countries with less protection for workers.


Working Conditions


Once in Bahrain, migrant workers are forced to endure terrible and dehumanizing working  conditions, including low or withheld wages and physical and psychological abuse. One of the  most common forms of exploitation experienced by migrant workers is low wages, which can  make them vulnerable to forced labor after arriving in Bahrain. The majority of migrant workers  in Bahrain receive lower wages than Bahraini citizens. Migrant workers earn an average of BHD  205 (USD 544) per month, compared to Bahraini citizens who earn an average of BHD 700 (USD  1,853) per month. Domestic workers earn even less: their average monthly income can be as  low as BHD 40 (USD 106), almost 20 times less than that of Bahraini citizens. Bahrain has no  minimum wage, and the government has thus far resisted efforts to adopt one. Some labor exporting countries have set minimum wages for their nationals working abroad and try to ensure that these rates are reflected in an employment contract. However, Bahraini employers have admitted that they often pay workers less than the minimum monthly wage their governments stipulated. For example, Filipino workers often earn 33% less than mandated by the bilateral agreement between Bahrain and the Philippines.


Further complicating the situation is the fact that employers commonly withhold employees’  wages. The Migrant Workers Protection Society, an NGO that operates a shelter for female  migrant workers in Bahrain, reported in 2012 that the number one complaint of female migrant  workers was unpaid salary. Even though withholding wages violates Bahraini labor law and is a  crime under the penal code, employers continue to do so, often by physically coercing laborers  into accepting lower wages. Employers are required to provide workers with receipts showing they have been paid in full, but workers have reported that employers often beat and threaten  workers into signing these receipts. As a result, workers often lack the proof necessary to show  they have not been paid according to the terms of their contract, or may be too afraid to report  the non-payment.


However, there are many workers who do file formal complaints with the Ministry of Labor, the institution responsible for mediating labor disputes in Bahrain. Unpaid wages are the most  common complaints the Ministry of Labor receives; in 2009, the Ministry received 987 complaints  of withheld wages from migrant workers. Unfortunately, the complaint procedure is often drawn out, and it is not uncommon for workers to wait more than a year before they receive any response from their employers or Ministry officials.


For workers whose wages are withheld for even one month, the impact is serious. They immediately fall into arrears on debt they owe in their home countries, often incurring additional interest, which may lead to detention and deportation. In many cases, a migrant falling into such debt can significantly endanger his family back home, as they often rely on remittances for daily living. In October 2009, thirty-eight migrant workers in Bahrain staged protests outside the Indian Embassy, claiming that they had not been paid for five months and had only been paid between BHD 80 (USD 212) and BHD 90 (USD 239) for working for the company for three to ten years. S. Prasad, one of the workers said, “We are suffering as the company didn’t pay us for five months...We have  families and it is so difficult to convince them that the owner didn’t pay us, as they think that we  are working outside India and therefore are earning a lot of money.” The workers also revealed  that they were physically and verbally abused when they asked for their salary.


Powerless and isolated migrant workers in Bahrain often suffer from severe physical and  psychological abuse. Some of this abuse comes in the form of harsh punishments like beatings or  burnings, administered for something as trivial as forgetting to use salt when preparing a meal. An example of the brutality of this physical abuse can be seen in the experience of Eskedar, an  Ethiopian national who came to Bahrain to work as a domestic worker when she was 19 year old. While working for a family for over two years, she experienced severe punishments and physical abuse almost daily, mostly at the hands of her employer’s wife. She has scars on her arm from when she was punished with a hot iron and on her knees from long hours of scrubbing floors  with bleach. She also lost sight in her left eye permanently after being punched in the face by her  employer’s son.

 Gulf Cooperative Council

Living Conditions


Migrant workers are often subjected to living in terrible and unhealthy conditions. Typically, male workers live in dormitory-style buildings. This housing is often cramped, with up to 20 men sleeping in one room. Sanitation is poor; there have been reports of crowded buildings with  only two bathrooms, no running water, and no air conditioning. The buildings themselves may  be deteriorating, and often contain hazards such as exposed electrical wires. In fact, fires are common in these overcrowded buildings; in 2009, six fires occurred in such buildings in only one month. These fires can result in the deaths of many workers; a fire in January 2013 burned down dormitory housing in Manama, injuring eight Asian workers and killing thirteen.


Due to the nature of living conditions for domestic workers, they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as the majority of them live in their employers’ homes. With limited opportunities to leave the house, they are completely dependent on their employers for food and housing. In a study conducted by the International Labor Organization, most interviewees had  private bedrooms, but others slept with the children or a female adult, lived with other female  workers or even slept in the kitchen. They are often forced to work long hours without leave85 and are often restricted to a small space in the house.


Because domestic workers are not viewed as professionals, the boundary between employers and domestic employees can be obfuscated; an employer may be able to control virtually all aspects  of a domestic worker’s life, including monitoring what she does when she is not working. For  instance, employers may prohibit domestic workers from using phones or the internet, or prevent  them from having a social life. As a result of domestic workers living with their employer’s family,  this abuse is either unknown to authorities or authorities are reluctant to investigate because it  may be seen as interfering in private family matters. The combination of abuse and the ability of  an employer to cut-off a domestic worker from outside communication can be very dangerous,  and often results in a situation where domestic workers are forced to endure abuse without being  able to reach out for help. Qamarunnisa Rassoul worked as a domestic worker in Bahrain for over fifteen years.90 Although she experienced extreme physical abuse at the hands of her employer and  her employer stopped paying her, Rassoul was unable to leave.


Rassoul’s forehead bears scars of a deep cut from a broken mirror she bumped into while running  away from her employer who was trying to beat her. Another scar stands out on her nose, allegedly  from the TV remote control unit thrown at her when she asked for permission to get some rest  because she was sick that day.

She remained trapped when her employer prevented her from contacting her family for help:

[…] when her employer confiscated her phonebook [, her] contacts with India were cut off.  When her family called, the employer said Rassoul no longer worked from them. The employer  took all letters that arrived from India. Rassoul’s husband gave up and got married to another  woman. Rassoul also lost contact with her mom and brother.


It wasn’t until a friend started looking for her that she was able to seek help from the Indian  embassy. Had her friend not been looking for Rassoul, it is likely she would have remained  isolated and trapped for many more years.


Sex Trafficking


Women are among the most vulnerable migrant workers; they are at the greatest risk of  experiencing forced labor and/or sex trafficking, with Bahrain being a destination country for  sex trafficking.  Domestic workers may be victims of sex trafficking after being deceived into  coming to Bahrain with regular working visas and later being forced into prostitution. Escaped  domestic workers are also picked up by a sex trafficking ring after fleeing an abusive employer. In  2010, authorities discovered two underage Bangladeshi girls with forged passports at an airport  in Bahrain. The young women were part of a larger trafficking ring that consisted of Thai and  Bahraini nationals who deceived women into believing they would work as domestic servants but  then forced them into prostitution in entertainment venues.


Victims of sex trafficking are primarily from South and Southeast Asia (especially the Philippines  and Thailand), but many come from Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, China,  Vietnam, and Eastern Europe. Women and girls who are trafficked for sex are often subjected  to similar exploitation as domestic workers: their passports and visas are confiscated, thus  eliminating their freedom of mobility. Additionally, these women often endure physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by their traffickers, and are sometimes moved from country to country.

This makes it particularly difficult for victims to seek help, as well as for perpetrators to be prosecuted in Bahrain. 

The Government of Bahrain does not have a legal mechanism to identify potential victims of  trafficking. Instead, victims are usually labeled illegal migrants or prostitutes and then detained and deported. One figure states that 7,346 undocumented migrants were deported from Bahrain  in 2013, and in a period of three months, 2,114 more were arrested. Victims of human trafficking  likely comprised a substantial portion of these persons.


Efforts Undertaken by the Government of Bahrain


There is a general unawareness about the plight of migrant workers among police and the  public. This may in part be due to discrimination and xenophobia toward foreign migrant workers,  who are often viewed negatively and blamed for stealing jobs from native Bahrainis. Because of this, migrant workers are often themselves blamed for the abuses that they suffer. In order  for meaningful change to occur, attitudes that are more compassionate to migrant workers need  to be encouraged among the general public. Migrant Workers Protection Society reports that in 2013, the number of women sheltered by the organization increased by 25%, which may suggest that awareness of migrant worker abuse is increasing and more women are seeking protection. This is a positive step, but more reforms are required in order to adequately protect the rights of  migrant workers.


The Government of Bahrain has legislated more reform on migrant labor and human trafficking  than neighboring Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Much of the legal efforts undertaken by the  Government of Bahrain have centered on ostensibly dismantling the exploitative kafala system.  The Labor Code of 1976 states employment must be regulated by a written contract and prohibits  charging workers for employment and withholding passports. However, this law is generally not enforced, and withholding passports in still widely practiced. In a substantial step forward, the Government of Bahrain passed the Mobility Law of 2009, which allowed workers to switch employers without a current sponsor’s permission, after which they had 30 days to remain in  the country legally while searching for new employment. Yet in 2011, this law was amended,  and workers are now required to stay with their employers for at least one year after their arrival  before they are allowed to change employers. Workers are therefore still tied to their sponsor  during this period of time under Bahraini law, even if they experience abuse. This speaks to a larger pattern of the Government of Bahrain’s efforts to address the rights of migrant workers: efforts remain largely cosmetic and any reforms that have been enacted are not enforced, leaving migrant  workers effectively unprotected by the law in Bahrain. 


The Government of Bahrain has likewise failed to adequately address human trafficking in the  country. Legal attempts aimed at combating human trafficking have been restricted to Law No.  1 of 2008 with Respect to Human Trafficking in Persons, which set minimum punishments for  persons found guilty of human trafficking and created special protections for victims. The law  also established the Committee for the Assessment of the Status of Foreigners who are Victims  of Trafficking in Persons. A shelter for female victims of trafficking and other abuses was  established in 2005, and has to date, sheltered more than 1,200 women. However, the law has  failed to adequately address human trafficking issues, and has not functioned to effectively protect  victims or prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. In 2013, the Government of Bahrain  investigated only seven trafficking cases (six of which were sex trafficking, while one was forced  labor). Additionally, the Government of Bahrain still lacks a mechanism to proactively identify  potential victims of human trafficking, and continues to treat trafficked persons as illegal migrants. 


Similarly, domestic workers still significantly lack protection under Bahraini labor law. The Labor  Code of 1976 excludes domestic work, while social attitudes towards domestic workers further  prevent their rights from being protected. In August 2009, some achievements were made  through the Mobility Law, which focused on improving working conditions for foreign workers.  The law stated that domestic workers are no longer required to seek permission from employers to leave their jobs. However, this law was later amended to mandate a year of service prior to changing employers. In July 2012, a new labor law expanded protections for domestic workers to include annual sick leave and access to labor mediation, but significantly ignored other basic rights such as setting a minimum wage and the ability to leave an employer.


Most recent regional efforts focus on bilateral agreements and international conventions. In May 2009, three national trade centers in Sri Lanka and their counterparts in Bahrain signed bilateral  cooperation agreements on the protection of migrant workers’ rights. In January 2012, trade  unions in Bahrain also signed bilateral agreements with the General Federation of Nepalese Trade  Unions. Bahrain is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified important international conventions related to the elimination of forced labor, child labor, and discrimination based on employment and occupation. However, Bahrain has not yet ratified ILO  convention No. 189 on the rights of domestic workers, No. 87 on freedom of association and  protection of the right to organize, and No. 98 on the right to organize and collective bargaining. Activists and NGOs are also currently working to persuade Bahrain to adopt international labor  convention standards to protect migrant workers’ rights.


Bahrain also has ratified human rights treaties that obligate protection of labor rights, including  the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW);  the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International  Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and the Convention against Torture and Other  Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Additionally, Bahrain has ratified protocols related to elimination of human trafficking, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants  by Land, Sea, and Air. Despite the ratification of these relevant protocols, the international  community has repeatedly observed the Government of Bahrain’s failure to comply with the  obligations they impose.


Bahrain’s Special Procedures Recommendations


A United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur is an expert on human rights appointed by the UN  Human Rights Council to investigate and report on specific countries or issues regarding human  rights abuses. The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, visited the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Sultanate of Oman, and the State of Qatar in 2006 to observe the environment in which trafficked persons and migrant workers live and the institutions in  place that support or neglect their rights. More specifically, the Special Rapporteur aimed to determine what protection, prevention, and punishment tools were being put into place to reduce the number of abuses against migrant workers and the inflow of trafficked persons.

The following section updates the 2007 report by the Special Rapporteur with efforts and failures of the Government of Bahrain in responding to recommendations given by the Special Rapporteur in regard to prevention of human trafficking, protection of victims, and punishment of perpetrators. 




In the report, the Rapporteur recommended that the Government of Bahrain sign a number  of international conventions, implement international human rights commitments regarding  human trafficking and migrant workers, specifically target vulnerable domestic workers with new  legislation, abolish the kafala system, secure bilateral and multilateral agreements with source  countries, collaborate with international institutions such as the International Organization for  Migration (IOM) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), monitor recruitment agencies,  and provide training to public officials on the nature of human trafficking and the freedoms of  migrant workers. Since the report’s release, the Government of Bahrain has taken limited  steps to address the recommendations put forth by the Special Rapporteur, and a majority of  the recommendations are not fully implemented or enforced. To date, Bahrain has not signed or ratified the International Convention of the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, nor has it ratified ILO Convention No. 97 or No. 143.


In 2008, the Government of Bahrain appeared to make progress in aligning domestic legislation  with the Palermo Protocol when it passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law. The law sets  punishments for persons found guilty of human trafficking, including harsher punishments for  perpetrators who are corporate employees or if a victim is under age 15. The law also mandates  protection for victims and prevention of human trafficking by raising public awareness.


While this is a positive step toward the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking and  the protection of victims, substantial evidence demonstrates that the law is not enforced132 and  that officials have not used this law to prosecute forced labor trafficking. Further, though the government has established a shelter for victims, there is not a formal referral process for victims  seeking shelter, and many victims still lack the protection they need. Finally, there is no formal  legal mechanism for identification of victims, who are often labeled as prostitutes or illegal  migrants and are arrested, detained, and deported.


The Government of Bahrain has also made limited efforts regarding the legal protection of domestic workers. The Mobility Law of 2009, which allows employers to leave employees without their  consent, applies to domestic workers. In 2012, a law was passed extending minimal protection  to domestic workers, but ignored other basic rights and failed to set a minimum wage. To date,  domestic workers are still widely excluded from legal protection, and social attitudes on the role of  domestic workers continue to prevent adequate protection of domestic workers’ rights. In 2012,  the Government of Bahrain said it would consider ratifying ILO Convention No. 189 on Domestic Workers, but has since taken no further action on the subject.


Furthermore, the Government of Bahrain continues to institutionalize human trafficking in the  form of the kafala system, which has been dismantled in name only. Although the Mobility Law of  2009 allowed employees to leave their jobs without consent of employers, the law was reformed  in 2011 to require workers to stay with their employers for one year before they are allowed to  change jobs without permission. It is also extremely difficult for workers to be granted permission  by the LMRA to change employers. In 2011, the LMRA rejected 98% applications submitted by  workers who sought to change jobs without their employers’ permission. The Government of  Bahrain has also failed to take any substantial efforts to prevent human trafficking by failing to  enforce labor contracts between employers and employees.


The Special Rapporteur has called for a framework of cooperation through bilateral and  multilateral agreements with source countries and through engagement with international human  rights organizations. There have been recent attempts at bilateral agreements with trade unions in  Sri Lanka (2009) and Nepal (2012) to agree to protect the rights of migrant workers. The Special  Rapporteur also urged cooperation between governments in the conviction and extradition of  human trafficking offenders. There is some evidence of this cooperation between Bahrain and  source countries, most notably in the 2010 bust of a Thai trafficking ring in Bahrain, where  Bahraini and Thai officials worked together to identify and repatriate victims. However, regular  cooperation is limited. 


Ongoing cooperation between the Government of Bahrain and international organizations on  human rights in general is also limited. In September 2013, OHCHR issued a joint statement with 47 countries about the situation of human rights in Bahrain, explicitly calling for Bahrain to increase cooperation with OHCHR and engagement with the Human Rights Council. While the Government of Bahrain recently allowed OHCHR into the country,  it agreed to do so only  if OHCHR’s mandate was extremely limited with no reporting mandate. In regard to labor issues  more specifically, the ILO recently issued direct requests to the Government of Bahrain regarding  updates on the status of the ratification of labor conventions, including Convention No 14 (weekly  rest) and Convention No 89 (night work of women). Bahrain has not yet responded to these  inquiries. 


The Government of Bahrain has also failed to foster an environment in which civil society may function to help combat trafficking. The 2011 political unrest prompted the government to initiate  a security crackdown in Bahrain, which resulted in civil society leaders, including many human  rights activists, being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. The Government of Bahrain has  continued this crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders through 2014. Human  rights defenders have been subjected to police and government harassment, including arrest,  incarceration, and even death threats. The press is also severely restricted in Bahrain, limiting accountability for human rights abuses including those associated with migrant workers and  human trafficking. Though these abuses are not related specifically to the protection of migrant  rights and the prevention of human trafficking, it creates an environment where civil society  organizations that document human rights abuses are unable to fully operate, thereby preventing  any accountability on these issues from the Government of Bahrain. 


Migrant workers remain largely uninformed about their rights and obligations as employees  and residents in Bahrain. In 2012, the LMRA attempted to improve its treatment of processing work visas and initiating workers’ education campaigns. While these campaigns may attempt to educate incoming workers on Bahraini life and legal procedure, they do not protect workers from trafficking or the labor abuses they experience from their employers. Trafficked persons and migrant workers continue to be abused by Bahraini families who may refuse to settle and often ignore Ministry of Labor meeting requests. Due to these issues, the Ministry resolved only 30% of complaints filed by migrant workers from 2009 to 2011. The LMRA attempted to educate and  inform workers of trafficking-related information through its website, radios, and other media  outlets in English, Hindi, and Malayalam. Unfortunately, this effort has had minimal impact, as migrant workers often do not have access to domestic media or the internet.


Finally, there has been little success in regard to trafficking-related training for public officials and recruiting agencies. The Bahrain government’s interagency Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons convened only periodically in 2013 and hosted only two national seminars to raise awareness about trafficking, while participating in few regional trainings and workshops. The committee also conducted a trafficking survey, though the results of the survey were unknown.


The impact of these seminars and trainings is minimal, as there has been no reduction in the influx of human trafficking and abuse against migrant workers. The U.S. State Department reinforces this by stating that the government made no efforts to curb the demand for commercial sex or forced labor in 2013.




In regard to the protection of victims of human trafficking, the Special Rapporteur made  recommendations that the government develop procedures for identifying and safeguarding  victims of human trafficking, guarantee migrant workers fair trial rights, establish, maintain,  and implement a complaints procedure in compliance with international norms, prohibit mass  HIV/AIDS testing, inform detained nationals and their embassies of the reasons for their arrest,  establish mechanisms to monitor workplace compliance with employment contracts (especially  in relation to domestic workers), regularly monitor compliance with and enforcement of labor  codes, take special precautions as they relate to minors in human trafficking, and set up a shelter  for abused domestic female workers.


The Government of Bahrain has been largely unsuccessful in providing comprehensive protection for victims of human trafficking. Although the 2008 Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, there is no systematic procedure to identify victims of trafficking in detention centers. In 2005, a shelter for female migrant workers was established, and it has protected more than 1,200 women. The number of women seeking shelter has  increased each year, indicating that more women are seeking protection; however, the number is  still extremely low relative to the population.158 In order to address this issue, the government has  funded and built a 120-bed domestic violence shelter for female victims of trafficking and their  children. Its utility has been limited, however; in 2012, the shelter took in 25 victims suspected of being trafficked into Bahrain, and in 2013, a total of. None of these services are granted  to male trafficking victims, and there are reports of migrant workers in need of assistance being  turned away by the government and advised to go to their respective embassies. This often means that migrant workers who have no embassy representation in Bahrain have few places to go for support. Additionally, the government has not taken into consideration providing victims  with a social worker to accompany them outside of the shelter. Instead, victims can leave the shelter unaccompanied, potentially exposing them to capture and trafficking.


Vulnerable groups such as migrant domestic workers who have fled their employers or women who are arrested for prostitution remain at risk of detention and deportation. In 2012, Bahrain  extended its labor law to provide some protections for domestic workers. However, these extensions do not address the unique conditions of the work of domestic laborers that make them particularly vulnerable. The 2012 law does not deal with excessive work hours and fails to set  maximum daily or weekly hours for domestic workers that their employers must follow. It also does not require that workers receive overtime pay or mandate that employers give workers weekly days off. The Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch  commented that, “Without more vigorous enforcement, these efforts do little to address the most  widespread rights violations such as failure to pay wages and withholding workers’ passports.” This is a clear indication that the Government of Bahrain has failed to develop a comprehensive human rights framework for migrant workers.


Outside of their workplaces, migrant workers also lack legal protection if arrested by the Bahraini government. It has been reported that some migrant workers have been detained for several  years after being arrested for outstanding debts. Language barriers can prevent detained migrant workers from being able to seek legal aid and understand the reasons for their arrest. Due to the  lack of transparency and access for independent inspectors to visit detention facilities in Bahrain  prior to approval from the government, there is little information on how migrant workers are  treated in detention centers. 


Migrant workers also face discriminatory practices in regards to HIV/AIDS testing. HIV/AIDS  tests should be conducted only with the voluntary and informed consent of the individual, but  migrant workers in Bahrain are targeted and continuously forced into mandatory HIV/AIDS  testing which is against the right to equality before the law and freedom from discrimination.


In addition, mandatory testing leaves migrant workers vulnerable to unethical deportation. Although Bahrain is a member of the World Health Organization and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, social misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS and high costs of treatment are still present in society. Many Bahrainis still consider those living with HIV/AIDS  as engaging in “un-Islamic” activities, primarily because it can be transmitted through unprotected  sex. Therefore, when a positive test result is found, migrant workers are often confined and deported without explanation.


Little progress has been made in terms of protection of migrant workers from poor working conditions. The Government of Bahrain announced that it would launch an inspection campaign to ensure employers do not withhold wages or confiscate passports. However, that campaign has not yet been launched and employers continue to confiscate passports with impunity.


Additionally, the Ministry of Labor’s slightly increased of the number of inspectors that monitor compliance with labor laws and health and safety regulations; in 2010, there were 33 inspectors,  while that number climbed to 58 in 2011.181 Despite this positive step, these numbers remain  extremely low; considering that there are over 50,000 companies that employ migrant workers and several hundred thousand migrant workers in the country. Further, inspectors can only issue citations – not fines – to employers who violate labor laws; if an employer still does not comply, the case is forwarded to a labor court, initiating a process that can take up to two years.


With respect to the protection of minors, the Government of Bahrain put into effect Labor Law in 2012. The law requires that the Ministry of Labor must have a guardian or parents’  signed approval for their minor to work, proof that the minor underwent a physical test and  can work in difficult settings, and assurances that the minor will not be working in hazardous  environments prior to being allowed to work in Bahrain. The U.S. State Department reports  that the Government of Bahrain is effectively implementing the law and that labor inspectors  effectively monitor and implement child labor laws in the industrial sector.




Finally, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the government fulfill its international  obligations in prosecuting human trafficking offenders, compile comprehensive statistics on  investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking, harmonize domestic law with international  prosecutorial standards for human trafficking, ensure that court decisions are promptly and strictly  enforced, and better coordinate with neighboring countries to eliminate human trafficking.


Many of the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations for Bahrain have not been implemented, even in the most minimal of capacities. The Government of Bahrain has not complied with basic  standards for eliminating or reducing human trafficking and has failed to regularly prosecute and  punish perpetrators. There is also no legal mechanism to identify victims of human trafficking or  a system to provide victims with “legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced  hardship or retribution,” Additionally, the Government of Bahrain has not actively enforced the  2008 anti-trafficking law or prosecuted trafficking offenders.


Counter to the recommendation to harmonize national legislation with the Palermo Protocol and define cases of human trafficking and forced labor as crimes and not labor disputes, the Government of Bahrain has proceeded to try forced labor offenders in civil proceedings instead of a criminal court. Despite the anti-trafficking legislation aimed in part at imposing harsh punishments  upon offenders, in 2012-2013 the legal courts’ record for prosecuting and punishing trafficking  offenders has not been positive, with the government only investigating seven cases of trafficking,  six of which were related to forced prostitution and only one of which concerned forced labor. In that year, three persons were prosecuted, none of whom were convicted, and four cases remain open. The Government of Bahrain also did not report any efforts to investigate government  complicity in trafficking offenses.193 In cases involving other types of migrant abuse where the  court does prosecute, court decisions and penalties are not enforced promptly or strictly.




While the Government of Bahrain has seemingly made significant efforts to promote the rights of migrant workers and eliminate human trafficking, failure to implement legislated reforms means that significant steps remain to ensure adequate protection of migrant workers. Though the Government of Bahrain has claimed that it has dismantled the kafala system, kafala still operates in society in many ways and contributes to creating the conditions conducive to forced labor. Migrant workers still experience exploitation and human rights abuses regularly, including  confiscated passports and other legal documents, low or withheld wages, physical and sexual  abuse, and poor living conditions. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation,  and unfortunately are still largely unprotected in Bahrain even though they make up the majority  of female Bahraini migrant workers.195 Impunity is common for perpetrators of such abuse.  The degrading conditions to which workers are subjected cannot continue. The Government of Bahrain needs to ensure the reforms they have enacted are enforced, and must continue to enact additional reforms that further protect migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.